Gomez-Jurado, Juan - 'The Traitor's Emblem' (translated by Daniel Hahn)
This is Gomez-Jurado's third book to appear in English following on from the two Father Fowler novels which included his debut, the controversial, gripping and best-selling GOD'S SPY involving a serial killer and the Vatican.
THE TRAITOR'S EMBLEM begins with a dramatic rescue at sea during an almighty storm in the Gibraltar Straits, 1940. The small group of men rescued are led by an eye-patched German who in gratitude gives the rescuing ship's Captain a gold medal or emblem. Years later the emblem is still in the same family. It is of Masonic origins and a Masonic scholar is desperate to get his hands on it. So much so that in return for just a touch of it, he will relate the secret story of the man who first owned it.
And so the story begins in 1919 in the upmarket Munich home of Baron von Schroeder which houses the Baron, his wife and sons plus the Baroness's sister and her son Paul who act as servants. The Baron's youngest son Jurgen hates his cousin Paul and makes his life a misery. It's soon revealed that there is a mystery behind the death of Paul's father and why they live with the Baron in poverty and it's a mystery that will obsess Paul over the next twenty years.
The story follows the lives of Paul, poor and Aryan and Alys, rich and Jewish as their lives intertwine, separate and reconnect over the years, and both have the threat of Jurgen over them as Jurgen is a rising star in Hitler's new order and has reasons to hate both of them.
THE TRAITOR'S EMBLEM is an interesting read, especially if like me your knowledge of between the wars Germany is somewhat lacking, and it has its origins in a true story. It is, however, not really a thriller; there is a mystery but it's not that gripping on its own and only really becomes significant in the last third of the book. Many more pages are spent on Paul's growing up, how he revolutionises a couple of small businesses, his joining the Masons, as well as on Alys and her independence from her domineering father and her new career.
I enjoyed THE TRAITOR'S EMBLEM, it's atmospheric and I learnt from it; it's an easy read which kept the pages turning. The dialogue felt rather too modern at times though, containing contemporary swearwords and a traffic jam described as "a snarl-up" but this could be the problem of words having been in use for a lot longer than one thinks.
Karen Meek, England
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