The German, by Lee Thomas
A masterful study of human nature. Highly recommended –
Story Blurb: At the height of World War II, a killer preys on the young men of a quiet Texas town. The murders are calculated, vicious, and they are just beginning. Sheriff Tom Rabbit and his men are baffled and the community he serves is terrified of the monster lurking their streets. The only clues the killer leaves behind are painted snuffboxes containing notes written in German. As the panic builds all eyes turn toward a quiet man with secrets of his own.
Ernst Lang fled Germany in 1934. Once a brute, a soldier, a leader of the Nazi party, he has renounced aggression and embraces a peaceful obscurity. But Lang is haunted by an impossible past. He remembers his own execution and the extremes of sex and violence that led to it. He remembers the men he led into battle, the men he seduced, and the men who betrayed him. But are these the memories of a man given a second life, or the delusions of a lunatic?
About the author: LEE THOMAS is the Bram Stoker Award and the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Stained, Parish Damned, The Dust of Wonderland, and In the Closet, Under the Bed. Recent and forthcoming titles include The German, The Black Sun Set, and Focus (co-written with Nate Southard).
Available in e-book format.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I first spotted The German by Lee Thomas [Lethe Press, 2011] in the fall of 2011, but it is only recently that I got around the reading it. At first blush it appeared to be too dark to prompt my immediate attention—and it is quite dark in places—but overriding this is its insightful and uncompromising look at human nature, of which the gory violence is only a symptom.
In his own words, Thomas describes it this way:
Cruelty is not taught. It is as certain as a compass point. One can be instructed in the specifics of cruelty, like one can be taught to use a spoon, a knife, a fork, but even without these skills a man will still eat.
The setting, which has been described as “richly atmospheric,” is a small town in Texas during the latter part of WWII. As small towns go, it is typically insular with tinges of redneck sentiment among the baser-class residents, and Thomas has done a masterful job of capturing this and the oppressive nature of it.
The main characters are Tim Randall, a likeable teenage boy struggling to come of age without the guidance of his father, who is overseas, and a working mother fretting about her husband; Sheriff Tom Rabbit, the town’s sheriff who reminds me of the sheriff in “Deliverance”—level-headed and not easily deceived; and Ernst Lang, a former Nazi officer who has been to the brink of death and back, and longs for nothing more than peaceful anonymity.
The gay element, though not a dominant one, is that Ernst Lang sleeps with men—not overtly but unapologetically. It is therefore a ‘gay content’ novel, and not an “m/m romance” as it has been described.
Otherwise, it is a who-done-it mystery that begins when a boy is discovered savagely murdered with a snuffbox stuffed into his mouth. Moreover, this snuffbox(certainly not indigenous to middle-class North America) contains a note written in German. And if this isn’t sufficiently bizarre and gruesome to get the whole town talking, another lad is discovered under similar circumstances. Not surprisingly, therefore, the focus turns to the small German community within the town, and specifically on Ernst Lang.
What a masterfully conceived and prolific mix this is: Two vicious murders with an obvious German connection; a small, redneck town in the midst of supporting the war against the Nazis; and a reclusive, ex-Nazi officer who is also homosexual. No wonder the author chose to take his time slow-cooking these ingredients so that the reader could savour each and every one to the surprising ending.
In addition it is a portrait of the cruelty that lurks in the hearts of men, even the “good” ones if it is allowed to come to the surface, and the tyranny of the majority to make a wrong a right.
The German is one of a handful of great books I have read. Highly recommended. Five bees.
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A new feature:
As a means of developing the characters in my stories I first look for an image that most closely resembles the character I’m working on. This also helps me to stay focussed on the character’s personality throughout. Since I write historical fiction, many of these images are vintage photographs with a story of their own, and so you might be interested in seeing these, too.
This first image represents Spencer Twilingate, Coming of Age on the Trail, who is the father of the main character, Cory Twilingate. In the story, Spencer is the wayward son of the Fifth Earl of Ardmore, and after several indiscretions he is shuffled off to Canada where, befitting his nature, he sets off across North America to do some prospecting in British Columbia. Along the way he joins up with a precocious young cowboy by the name of J. C. “Jaycee” Collins, and the two of them eventually form a relationship. However, given the Victorian atmosphere of the 1860s, and fearing persecution Jaycee fades from the picture to allow Spencer to marry and produce Cory. He also puts together the 40,000-acre Prodigal Son Ranch, the biggest in British Columbia.
In actuality this photograph is of a cousin of the legendary Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minter of Great Britain during WWII, and a cousin of the equally famous Duke of Marlborough. However, this rather foppish-looking cousin was a total failure as a rancher—loosing some £30,000 pounds in about five years before he returned to England.
The sales are in for Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears for 2011, and these are very gratifying—especially for e-book sales. Most gratifying of all, however, are the sales for my beloved Two Lads. Although I released this book four years age (March) it is still attracting readers in remarkable numbers. Way to go, guys.
If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.
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