Leonard, Peter - 'Back from the Dead'
German war criminal and mass murderer Ernst Hess is in a sticky predicament at the start of BACK FROM THE DEAD, follow up to VOICES OF THE DEAD. He has miraculously survived being shot and left for dead in the ocean waters, managing to get to the Bahamas from Florida. But while he is treated in a Bahaman hospital the local police soon become suspicious at his claims of amnesia, and realise he is on the lam from US murder charges. The ever resourceful Hess manages to escape from hospital and return journalist to Florida, to plot his revenge against Harry Levin, the Holocaust survivor, who together with girlfriend Colette, and fellow survivor Joyce, revealed his true wartime conduct to the world. Hess also needs to somehow find money to fund his fugitive lifestyle, as his main bank accounts have been frozen.
But it's not only the German police who are after Hess. A shady German businessman, Gerhard Braun, and his even shadier PI, the ruthless ex-Stasi man Zeller, are hot on Hess's trail, and by extension, Colette's, as someone who might have some interesting information about Hess. Once Harry suspects Hess is still alive, he calls on his loyal friend Cordell, who is now dabbling in drug dealing, to help protect Joyce, while he attempts to hunt down Hess, and deal with Zeller. As if the set up wasn't sufficiently fraught whilst Harry and Hess play their cat and mouse game, some unscrupulous and dim American Neo-Nazis and stolen valuable paintings added to the mix complicate matters further.
BACK FROM THE DEAD is an entertaining thriller, with a jet black sense of humour and high body count, mostly due to Hess who remains the utterly ruthless psychopathic killer you might expect from an evil Nazi. Harry and his friends, more or less on the side of the angels, remain sympathetic and believable though Cordell's exploits in the drug world show a dangerous and more ruthless side to his character. Leonard moves his characters through various settings - Bahaman hospital, Florida retiree villas and apartments, Bavarian towns, at a cracking pace, but with sufficient local colour to avoid the perfunctory travelogue feel that some globe-trotting thrillers can be prone to. Although BACK FROM THE DEAD is readable as a standalone, it really does benefit from being read after VOICES OF THE DEAD, as VOICES sets up so many of the character meetings and elements of the plot.
Laura Root, England