I became aware of Alan Bricklin’s book, Crossword, via Review Seekers, a Facebook site that allows authors to request a book review if they are willing to offer a free copy of their book or let other subscribers know that their book is free on Amazon. Something about the cover of Bricklin’s, Crossword intrigued me. I felt due for an action-packed mystery, so I hopped over to Amazon and downloaded a copy. No regrets, for sure. I managed to connect with Alan via a niece of his on Twitter and he agreed to do a guest post for my location series.
Take it away Alan!
Crossword takes place in numerous locales including Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, England and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I think it’s interesting to take a look at the genesis of this novel, since many of the locations flow from the story itself.
Small street in Hohenems
I’ve been intrigued by espionage ever since I was a teenager. I don’t remember the exact genesis of this interest; but I suspect it came from reading books about code breakers and spies. I was an avid reader from a fairly young age and read a great variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction. A few years ago, while reading the Los Angeles Times, I came across an article about lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee, which separates parts of Germany and Switzerland.
Although the article was mainly a piece on travel and vacations, the author mentioned that during World War II the lake had seen its share of spies crossing between the two countries on opposite shores. This got me to thinking that this might be part of the setting for a spy novel I had been thinking about writing. Shortly after this I read a piece about Hitler’s attempt to develop an atomic bomb, and I wondered how I might utilize this along with the locale of lake Constance.
I was able to get several rolls of microfiche from the Department of Defense that had recently been declassified and dealt with operations that had taken place in Switzerland and in the vicinity of the lake. Further research turned up information about the transport of fissionable material from Norway to Germany, and I could visualize the nidus of a story and several locations that would each play a part in the action.
Rhine River near the Swiss-Austrian border.
Every story needs a hero or heroine, or at least a protagonist, and that was my next task. To add interest, my protagonist needed to have his own personal problems to deal with as well as the challenges of the task assigned to him. The “back story” for my hero presented an opportunity for yet another location, and I choose one with which I was very familiar, Philadelphia, the city where I was born and lived for the first thirty years of my life.
I believe that a story is not just about action and events. All of these take place in specific locations, and details about locations enrich the tale I’m telling, just as the thoughts and feelings of the characters make them come alive. A lot of research went into investigating places, especially ones that I had not actually visited. What buildings were in existence during the time period of the story, what did they look like, who would have frequented them?
The OSS Building in Switzerland
These were some of the questions I endeavoured to answer. Research, photos and imagination allowed me to paint a picture which I hope created a realistic background for the story I told.
My Review of Crossword
Crossword is an espionage thriller with enough twists and turns to keep the most enthusiastic of fans page-turning. Rich in detail, the book plunges the reader back in time to the closing weeks of World War II. Various settings include Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the American streets of Philadelphia.
Point of view shifts from character to character, allowing a wide angle perspective across battle lines and allegiances. We meet SS General Gerhard Waldman who is described as standing, “ . . . just over six feet tall, with chiselled features and jet black hair, his lean, athletic build hidden by his uniform and the long leather coat he wore. His features were almost a caricature of himself, and in the eerie light he looked, at times, more like an illustration than a living human being.” Images of black and white comic book Nazi characters flood the imagination.
Then their is Heinrich Schroeder, the quintessential military man – a soldier’s soldier – he doesn’t consider politics but ultimately, the action he takes to preserve what he cares about lands many in a political storm.
Early on we are introduced to Sten, the Norwegian resistance fighter. He suffers through the Nazi occupation and describes well the reality of war. “Fighting may kill you but it was all the other things that chipped away at your soul and sucked out your energy so that no matter how strong your muscles were, no matter how good your physical condition, you always felt drained and weak.” Life under the Germans was for Sten, “. . . as if all his actions took place on a giant cobweb of infinite dimensions, each movement held back by sticky stands, never knowing if he would reach his destination and always, in the back of his mind, the spider.”
Allan Dulles, the consummate spymaster and power broker for the allies has seen too much and envies the clouds. “He stared out his office window a moment longer, watching the clouds float by, and with an anthropomorphism he didn’t really believe, envied them their distance and detachment from the human race, watcher who were serene in their total inability to do anything to alter the course of history . . .”
Larry Sabatino, the US soldier turned spy who hails from the streets of South Philly, looks through a forest clearing to note, “Flecks of mica within the rock reflected those of the sun’s rays that penetrated the forest cover and gave the appearance of a giant mirrored orb in the center of some Coney Island ballroom.” And thus the author links with brilliant ease two entirely disparate locations.
The story unfolds through espionage and counter espionage. “Questions wrapped in an enigma and sent into a spin by deception and trickery. Tradecraft at its best. Nothing is what it seems.”
Love and betrayal, lost and found people and things, all juxtaposed against the life-shattering confusion of a war coming to an end. A haunting question is posed. ‘How do you search for someone who’s no longer among the living? Do you look for a ghost, some ethereal spirit that haunts places once familiar, that lingers in corners of times gone by and peeks from behind some almost forgotten theme?”
Bricklin’s superb use of imagery and setting location throws the reader inside the emotional landscape of war. Reality is reflected through a prism that sheds insight on all sides. For the reader who is looking for a complex novel, Crossword will not disappoint.
Please hop over to Amazon and check out Alan Bricklin’s book – Crossword.