Private Investigator, Sam Grant has to trace the vendor of a painting that has come up for sale at a London auction room. Crafted by a German Jewish artist who was killed in a Nazi concentration camp, the painting had been stolen amidst horrific war crimes in Lower Saxony at the end of World War II.
Then it had vanished, only to mysteriously resurface fifty years later. So who had possessed it all those years?
Grant has to find the answer for the beautiful Gerda Hoffman. But this case turns out to be more deadly than either of them expected…
‘Bavarian Sunset’ was a pot luck choice from the Large Print shelves in my local library. Having read the book I can confirm that my luck wasn’t that good.
I wonder what I would have thought of this book if I had read it when it was published back in 1993? I suspect I’d have gone ‘It was a bit meh. The prose plodded and the ending sagged but it was Ok.’ Reading it nearly thirty years later, I found myself muttering about misogyny and xenophobia and wondering about who the author thought would find all this entertaining.
It’s not entirely a bad book. It tells a story quickly and effectively. The prose is more than a little leaden at times but most of the dialogue works and the pacing is OK. There was no notable tension but I was at least curious about how things would work out. The descriptions of how the PI tracked down his man were clear, plausible and well-paced. The backstory of two English villains rings true but read like an ‘explainer’ on a news channel, rather than a thriller.
The opening felt reasonably strong until I had time to think about it. It describes a home invasion and an (off-camera) rape. The action takes place in Lower Saxony in the closing days of World War II. The woman and her six-year-old son are alone in their Schloss, abandoned by their servants, when a British officer and his sergeant arrive. The sergeant keeps the boy with him and carries out some minor looting while the officer takes the woman upstairs and subjects her to a brutal rape. The tone is matter of fact rather than exploitative. The chapter is called ‘Fortunes of War’ and has a ‘these things happen in war’ feel to it that I almost bought in to.
Then I understood that the rape was the driver of a decades-long hunger for revenge and having the rape take place off-camera seemed more like a cop-out than an act of discretion. As the book went on, I realised that the revenge wasn’t motivated by any emotional understanding of what had been done to the woman and what effect it had upon her. The boy, now grown into a man, wanted revenge for himself, not for his mother. He wanted revenge on the man who had shown him to be powerless and who had insulted his family and defiled his home. This might be credible, but it’s hard to sympathise with.
Eventually, it became clear to me that I wasn’t supposed to empathise with the man seeking revenge. He loses any claim to victim status when he’s shown to be funding neo-Nazi groups and stirring up violence. None of this was well done. It was clumsy and clichéd.
The only male character who I didn’t actively dislike was our Private Investigator. There wasn’t anything remarkable about him. He was methodical and dogged and dull but, unlike the other men, he wasn’t something I wanted to scrape off my shoe. He carried the investigation along competently enough but I found his inability to see the end-game hard to credit.
The ending, when we finally got there, was anticlimactic and felt rushed. The epilogue was clumsy and added nothing except a little dry humour.
I think the main thing I took away from this book was how long ago the 1990s were and how alien they feel now.