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Monday, April 18, 2016


A Review of Michael Ridpath's TRAITOR'S GATE

TRAITOR'S GATE picks a particularly fascinating historical event to weave a fictional narrative around. Contrary to the consensus historical record, opposition to Hitler and the Nazis was ongoing throughout the 12 years of the Third Reich and thousands paid with their lives for opposing the regime.

What Ridpath gives us in the novel is an insight into one of the many plots to overthrow Hitler. This one is being bandied about within the military. Well aware of how disastrous another war with Europe would be, there are those in high places who will do whatever they can to prevent it from happening and the interesting dichotomy of loyalty to Germany and to their leader makes for intriguing plotting.

Into this is thrust Conrad de Lancey, a young adventurer somewhat battered from too much adventuring while fighting in Spain. He returns to Berlin and re-connects with former colleagues. Through them he quickly learns the reality of living under a Nazi regime when he and a Jewish colleague are arrested by the Gestapo and tortured. Saved by a former friend who is now part of the SS, this kicks things into high gear for what should have been an intense ride.

It's a compelling set up and one I was eager to explore. However the novel suffers from too much standard thriller fare which bogs the novel down. There's the Jewish woman threatened by the Nazis who our hero quickly falls in love with. The evil Nazi who covets the girl (not in a good way for her) and will remove anyone who stands in his way. The unskillful weaving of period detail into the text - where the story stops for a quick "let me tell you about this interesting street/place in 1930s Berlin I researched". Now that last bit is the true challenge of the genre (or any historical tale) and finding that right balance of fact and plot is no easy task, which is why so many authors can't pull it off. Well, Ridpath can't unfortunately.

The plot to overthrow Hitler hinges on Czechoslovakia. Hitler wants to invade,
the British and French have treaties ensuring they will go to war with Germany if this happens. The plotting Generals, hesitant to throw off a lifetime of duty and obedience, are hesitant to put the plan into action. Ultimately, in the desperate hope of avoiding another war, the decision is made to see how the situation plays out. If Britain and France move to defend Czechoslovakia, they will remove Hitler, make peace and avoid war. 

If you know the history of the period, you know how the result of this delaying action will be.

It's interesting stuff. It's based on actual events. Ridpath has done his research and there is a ton of period detail.

But the narrative box ticking swallows up the promising elements and TRAITOR'S GATE, ultimately, becomes a by the numbers thriller written in a style that is hardly gripping. The characters are well drawn at the outset but there's no true depth to them once they've entered the narrative. The plot meanders between love affair and preventing World War Two and, for this reader, the latter far overshadows the former with regards to holding my interest. Love stories are a dime a dozen, and plots of this kind are predictable and, frankly, uninteresting when offset against the true story of a plot to overthrow Hitler and prevent millions of people dying in another war.

Should you read TRAITOR'S GATE? If a cheap copy comes your way, you might get more out of it than I did. Otherwise you're not missing much, which is a shame because it delves into true events though the real life players are given fictional doppelgangers. I put this one in the middle of the road section of Berlin Noir.