Published by Penguin Books on February 24th 2015
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British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young have been chosen to conduct a special photo-reconnaissance mission near Dresden, Germany. Intelligence believes the Nazis are building new factories that could turn the tide of the war. When their plane is shot down, James and Bryan know they will be executed if captured. With an enemy patrol in pursuit, they manage to jump aboard a train reserved for senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front.
In a moment of desperation, they throw two patients off the train and take their places, hoping they can escape later. But their act is too convincing and they end up in the Alphabet House, a mental hospital located far behind enemy lines, where German doctors subject their patients to daily rounds of shock treatments and experimental drugs. The pilots’ only hope of survival is to fake insanity until the war ends, but their friendship and courage are put to the ultimate test when James and Bryan realize they aren’t the only ones in the Alphabet House feigning madness.
Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I had very high expectations for Adler-Olsen’s The Alphabet House, I love his Department Q series and while I’d miss Carl et al, I couldn’t wait to see what we’d get in this WWII story of a sanatorium, the soldiers within its walls, and the lengths to which some will go to, to protect their spoils of war.
The Alphabet House tells the story of Bryan and James, two childhood friends who’re pilots in the war, shot down in enemy territory. They manage to escape searching soldiers and dogs by hopping on a passing train. Coming up with a plan on the spur of the moment leads them to a mental hospital where they have to pretend to be ill, or risk discovery – and the penalty is certainly death, not least because they’re impersonating SS officers, and high-ranking ones at that. Once at the Alphabet House Bryan and James are stuck, unable to plan their escape or even talk to each other. The staff aren’t the only eyes and ears to avoid; there are others in their ward playing the crazy game.
One eventually manages to escape, killing one of the other pretenders and maiming another. I’d have to imagine how he manages to keep going with his life, because next thing we know it’s thirty years later, and now his conscience has him looking into whether his friend is still alive.
“Why did it take so long?” is just one of the questions I had. Others would be spoiler-ish, so I won’t list them. I will say though, that this is the first of Adler-Olsen’s books that I can believe was translated. The flow in the beginning was rough and seemed to stutter-start, and I almost put the book down but I really really wanted to know if Bryan and James made it. I’m glad I stuck around, the second half of the book is the revenge and redemption and action that I wanted. My other complaint is that it took so long to get there!
The Alphabet House is a long and winding tale, and one worth reading if you’re a fan of Adler-Olsen’s or if you like your fiction with a WWII backdrop. If you haven’t read Adler-Olsen, check out his Department Q series!
drey’s rating: Pick it up!
Have you read The Alphabet House? What did you think?