The alphabet house A novel

Jussi Adler-Olsen

Book - 2015

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FICTION/Adler-Olsen, Jussi
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War stories
New York, New York : Dutton [2015]
Physical Description
465 pages ; 24 cm
Main Author
Jussi Adler-Olsen (-)
Other Authors
Steve Schein (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Finally released for English-speaking readers, Adler-Olsen's first thriller (originally published in 1997) shares the finely detailed characterization and taut atmosphere of his Department Q series (The Marco Effect, 2014). Best friends Bryan Young and James Teasdale entered the RAF together, partnering on an impressive number of raids behind Nazi lines until they are shot down over Germany. They barely escape enemy soldiers by jumping aboard a passing hospital train transporting SS officers. Bryan and James quickly dispatch two patients, assume their identities, and are transported to a bleak mental ward called the Alphabet House (named for the lettered codes Nazis assigned disabilities). Desperate to conceal their sanity, they submit to brutal experimental electroshock treatments, debilitating medications, and the torment of another group of malingerers who are convinced that Bryan and James threaten their plans for postwar riches. Planning an escape while maintaining their facade is virtually impossible. Then one night's desperate action results in murder and a 30-year battle against the legacy of their stay at the Alphabet House. Adler-Olsen meticulously constructs the Alphabet House, layering hospital routines, mental-health treatments, and the stomach-turning evils of Nazi culture to create a pitch-perfect thriller atmosphere. Woven into the steady flow of action, the extent of the Alphabet House's damage to Bryan and James' friendship and futures is unveiled, shadowing the story with regret. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In January 1944, British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young, on a reconnaissance mission near Dresden, Germany, are shot down and escape capture by leaping aboard a train reserved for wounded SS men. Their convincing disguise as German soldiers gets them transferred to Alphabet House, a mental hospital near Freiberg. Staying silent and simulating madness, James and Bryan receive electroshock therapy and experimental drugs. Bryan soon learns how to hide his pills, as well as retain his physical and psychological stamina, while James slowly fades into oblivion. After ten months of plotting, Bryan finally escapes. Thirty years later, Bryan has secured a profitable professional career. James's life remains empty and defeated. Their friendship, too, has been marked by betrayal and abandonment. VERDICT Published for the first time in the United States, crime writer Adler-Olsen's (The Keeper of Lost Causes) 1997 debut was inspired by the experience of the author's father as a senior consultant in psychiatry at numerous mental hospitals in Denmark. But the extensive details of life in an asylum, where playing mental charades was not uncommon during the war, bog down the book's first half. Furthermore, the narrative doesn't introduce enough interaction between Bryan and James at the beginning to convince readers of the special friendship upon which the entire story is based. [See Prepub Alert, 8/18/14.]—Jerry P. Miller. Cambridge, MA [Page 87]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

He's the Danish crime king, departing from the Department Q series (e.g., The Purity of Vengeance) with a stand-alone published earlier in Denmark. Shot down over World War II Germany, British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young evade escape by hopping a train carrying senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front. That lands them at a scary mental hospital called the Alphabet House. [Page 48]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

First published in Denmark in 1997, Adler-Olsen's debut is a very different sort of thriller from his Department Q series (The Marco Effect, etc.): it recounts the harrowing odyssey of two British airmen shot down behind enemy lines during WWII and subsequently held captive, under assumed German identities, in a hellish mental hospital for SS officers. Only one of the two can actually speak German, and their struggle to survive electroshock therapy, experimental drugs, and brutal treatment from staff and fellow inmates makes the first half of the book punishing reading. A long-deferred day of reckoning arrives for several characters some 30 years later during the ill-fated 1972 Munich Olympics. Although the daring (if far-fetched) plot, sustained suspense, and caustic view of society all hint at the author's later work, this meticulously researched historical journey won't be to every taste. (Feb.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In the tradition of Alan Furst, the #1 international bestselling author of the Department Q series delivers his first stand-alone novel, a psychological thriller set in World War II Nazi Germany and 1970s England. British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young have been chosen to conduct a special photo-reconnaissance mission near Dresden, Germany. Intelligence believes the Nazis are building new factories that could turn the tide of the war. When their plane is shot down, James and Bryan know they will be executed if captured. With an enemy patrol in pursuit, they manage to jump aboard a train reserved for senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front. In a moment of desperation, they throw two patients off the train and take their places, hoping they can escape later. But their act is too convincing and they end up in the Alphabet House, a mental hospital located far behind enemy lines, where German doctors subject their patients to daily rounds of shock treatments and experimental drugs. The pilots’ only hope of survival is to fake insanity until the war ends, but their friendship and courage are put to the ultimate test when James and Bryan realize they aren’t the only ones in the Alphabet House feigning madness. Millions of fans around the world—and in this country—know Adler-Olsen for his award-winning Department Q series. His first stand-alone, The Alphabet House, is the perfect introduction for those who have yet to discover his riveting work.