Now that I have published “A Degree of Betrayal” and am officially a writer of a mystery novel–even if it is not purely a genre novel–I am actively devouring all types of mystery novels. So please, I welcome suggestions!
I began to read adult books at an early age; too early perhaps, because my family finds that I have serious gaps in the realm of young adult books and children’s classics. That’s hard to overcome, because I don’t anticipate returning to fill in those gaps any time soon.
In about 3rd grade (8-9 years old) I began reading my first adult books. I read an Agatha Christie Poirot mystery, and then bulldozed through the next ~50 Agatha Christie novels in a short span. I moved on to historical fiction of the Michener type, and from there it’s been almost exclusively literary fiction for the past ~40 years. So until the last few years, I have led a sheltered literary existence with regards to mystery novels. However, of recent I have found a number of outstanding authors who write mysteries that are truly literary fiction–the mystery may enhance the story, but the writing is so good that I can hardly call them ‘genre books.’
One such author is Sara Paretsky, whose PI (private investigator as opposed to principal investigator in the Lab Lit world) creation is V.I. Warshawski, a determined feminist detective whose loyalty to her clients and the truth–and unwillingness to yield to the privileged and corrupt–sets her apart from other detectives.
I have enjoyed reading through most of Ms. Paretsky’s novels and am continually amazed at the wealth of characters she brings to life, and their stories. She does not shy away from any topic, and at least two of her novels return to World War II and the Holocaust. In her most recent novel, Critical Mass, she again returns to aspects of Holocaust as a central theme in her book. But from a very unique angle.
I do not intend to do a book review of Critical Mass, because: 1) I haven’t completed the novel, and 2) It is simply outstanding and no review will do it justice. In fact, one of the reasons I am getting through it so slowly is because there are so many threaded bits of interesting information on the nuclear physicists of the time, fictional as well as real ones, such as the great Fermi and others, that I find myself continually putting the book down–reluctantly–and searching online for more background information.
An important part of the novel deals with Uranverein, the German program to develop nuclear weapons during WWII. Jews may have been inferior beings that needed to be gassed to death en masse to prevent their contamination of Europe, but a number of them were apparently kept alive–just barely, being starved and beaten–explicitly to advance the German goal of obtaining nuclear weapons.
The history of the Uranverein, and why the Germans–with such a head start and brilliant theoretical physicists (led by Heisenberg)–made such little progress (fortunately) is fascinating. Although it has been claimed that Heisenberg perhaps did not want the Nazis to obtain a nuclear weapon, some scientists and science historians such as Jeremy Bernstein–who wrote “Hitler’s Uranium Club-The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall,” were not convinced. Bernstein’s take on the matter was apparently more in line with the idea that although Heisenberg claimed he did try to use his position to find out about the fate of a number of Jewish scientists, the main reason for lack of progress was that he was primarily a theoretician who lacked experience leading a big project. I guess the Uncertainty Principle applies here…
It is clear that there was a tremendous race at the war’s end by the western allies to round up the top German scientists–engineers and rocket scientists, as well as nuclear scientists–before the Russians got to them. It is also clear that some of these scientists and engineers–as much as they have have pretended–were more complicit with the Nazis and Nazi crimes than they may have needed to be. In other words–and I have no doubt of Ms. Paretsky’s accuracy on this issue–they may have identified with and relished Nazi treatment of Jews far more than was needed strictly to stay alive and out of trouble in the course of the war.
As always, and as a central theme in Paretsky novels: those with advantaged backgrounds, money and power are often adept at twisting the truth to resist responsibility. As an underdog myself, I identify with Ms. Paretsky 100%.