Bruce Ducker, Author Permanent Press (NY) $25 (264p) ISBN 978-1-57962-060-8
In his timely, suspenseful and historically detailed novel, Ducker (Lead Us Not into Penn Station) brings together the worlds of contemporary Swiss banking and wartime Europe. In 1943, Hermann Steinmuller, a Swiss Jew, bankrolls an unseaworthy boat to take Jewish refugees from Budapest to Palestine. The boat sinks off the coast of Turkey, drowning Hermann and all the passengers. Flash forward to 1997. Peter Steinmuller is an American jazz keyboard player in a band that is fired by the cruise ship director when they arrive in Europe. Looking for work, he goes to Geneva, where, serendipitously, he comes upon an advertisement for the heirs of his grandfather Hermann's brother, Pietr. With the help of a quietly beautiful bank officer, Helene Durren, with whom he is soon intimate, he receives the proceeds of the account, a paltry 336 francs. He discovers, however, that the original account held 114,000 francs, most of which has been withdrawn by its trustee, Frederich Von Egger, a distinguished aristocrat and a pillar of rectitude active in humanitarian causes. When Peter goes to Von Egger's palatial estate and confronts him with his questions, Von Egger not only convinces Peter of the morality of his transactions with the account, but tells him that he and Pietr Steinmuller nobly helped Jews funnel their wealth out of Nazi hands. Helene, however, suspects that, far from helping fleeing Jews, Von Egger and Pietr Steinmuller were fleecing them. Peter sets off for Central Europe to track down the people whose names are on the old accounts for which Von Egger is trustee. The possible fraudulence of Von Egger's story becomes entangled with the question of whether Peter's grandfather is the heroic Hermann or the unscrupulous, anti-Semitic Pietr. By the time Peter unravels the mystery, readers have learned about the nefarious dealings of people who profited from the Holocaust. And although Ducker's prose sometimes lacks vibrancy, he deftly interpolates background material about jazz and neatly evokes such settings as Geneva and Budapest. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 978-1-57962-041-7
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