The Bleiberg Project by David Khara
The Bleiberg Project by David Khara (Le French Book, 2013) (translated by Simon John) A Consortium Thriller and the first in an intended trilogy with the film rights already sold to this first volume — this does not, of course, mean the film will ever be made, but it says something about the nature of the thriller that it should attract this interest. In terms of plot, we’re playing the old game of immediate threat hidden inside a bigger mystery. The first question appears to be how, if at all, the victorious Allies should have benefitted from the medical research undertaken by the Nazis using their supply of human “volunteers” both before and during World War II. It goes without saying that the German researchers abandoned all ethical considerations in their attempts to explore the human body and its potential. In part, this was driven by the goal of creating an Übermensch. An underlying irony of this story is that Bleiberg, the scientist in charge of the research forming the focus of this novel, is Jewish. In the early 1940s, he has his first success in creating a superior being. However, the broader historical question explored in multiple flashbacks is whether there was a context for the rise of Nazi Germany and, if so, what purpose was served.
This takes us into a world where shadowy organisations manipulate governments and guide the flow of history. A classic example of this phenomenon is the IIlluminati who play a pivotal role in Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco and more recently in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Then we have The Knights Templar, The Freemasons, and so on. It’s a routine playground for the conspiracy theorists who look for coincidences in the past as evidence of a plan at work. In this case, we’ve got people talking with the young Hitler and offering to help him into power in return for access to whatever medical research he promotes. It’s at this point the book blurs the line between straight thriller and science fiction. Of course, it doesn’t go the whole hog to something like the Milkweed Triptych series by Ian Tregillis. Writing a proper science fiction/fantasy book is not what’s intended here. This is more in the tradition of The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin which has the Nazis develop cloning and then weave the thriller around the premise of multiple children growing up around the world. All of which brings us back to the initial question which we must now modify. What would a shadowy organisation do with the results of unethical medical experiments if it, rather than the Allies, had acquired all the data and key scientists after the War?
For our purposes, we start off with the man who became Lieutenant General Daniel Corbin. As a good Air Force Officer, he “notices” things that fail to fit into the usual routines. His suspicions are raised so he begins a private investigation. When he realises the danger to himself and his family, he arranges to “disappear”. In due course, he meets Bernard Dean, a CIA nonoperational agent, and trusts him to keep a watchful eye over his son, Jeremy Novacek Corbin. The kindest way to describe the adult Jeremy is an embittered materialist. He never made a proper emotional recovery after his father suddenly left home and ends up surrounded by the greed merchants on Wall Street. When this waste of space becomes a target, Jacqueline Walls draws the short straw of bodyguard, not an assignment she would have undertaken voluntarily. As is required in thriller mode, they take off for Europe and, after miscellaneous fights and explosions, end up inside one of the secret lairs of the shadowy Consortium. In all this, the most interesting character proves to be Eytan Morgenstern, a member of the Israeli Secret Service who has a watching brief but is forced to intervene when Jacqueline proves less than adequate.
This is a great translation, nicely catching the rhythms of US English and developing considerable narrative drive as we quickly get into the action. The narrative is built around multiple flashbacks so we can slowly piece the key events together before and during the War. These flashbacks are taken out of order and require the investment of memory to put all the piece into their right positions in the jigsaw. This makes it more interesting than the conventional linear novel. On balance, I think it one of the better examples of conspiracy theory novels with a Nazi twist. Apart from the science of the medical development at the centre of the book, there’s very little originality on show. But what we get is shown off with considerable élan. Of course, our heroes must survive to fight another day so there’s little real suspense. That’s the price paid by all authors who set off to write series unless they introduce some humour into proceedings. Everyone forgives an author for a less than white-knuckle ride if he or she makes us smile as we read. Sadly, The Bleiberg Project is rather straight-faced but still very entertaining.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.