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'The Final Reckoning' is a 2008 thriller novel by Sam Bourne (pen name of journalist Jonathan Freedland). I've read a couple of Bourne's novels before, both of which were solid reads as very Dan Brown-esque, "conspiracy/secret society" focused thrillers, so I picked up 'The Final Reckoning' upon recognising the author in my library, but wasn't expecting anything mind-blowing.
A suspected suicide bomber approaching the United Nations building in New York is shot on sight, causing panic and lockdown in the area. However the suspicious man, Gerald Moreton turns out to be an innocent, seventy year-old Lithuanian Jew. Desperate to cover up the accidental shooting from the press and general punblic, UN Under-Secretary General Henning Munchau sends his friend, unscrupulous UN lawyer Tom Byrne, to Britain to keep the deceased's family quiet.
However Tom's mission becomes more complicated when not only does new evidence show the man to have been less than harmless in his intentions for coming to New York, but he also unearths him as part of an underground resistance of Jews who sought revenge against Nazis and Holocaust perpetrators and caused thousands of "accidents". But the more Tom and the deceased's daughter, Rebecca, try to learn about Gerald Moreton's history, the further the two of them head into danger as various parties worldwide try to keep hold of a secret that has stayed under wraps for sixty years...
I'll admit, the first couple chapters of 'The Final Reckoning' were a little slow as it focuses on the event that is the catalyst for the whole story- the death of Gerald Moreton. However once main character Tom is introduced the story got my attention much more and I was hooked for the rest of the night getting to the bottom of the mystery.
I liked how different chapters focused on different groups of characters around the world going through the turn of events: Tom and Rebecca; the detective in charge of the case back in New York, Detective Jay Sherrill; Henning Munchau back at the UN base; and the mysterious group that is trying to prevent Rebecca and Tom from discovering too much. Some chapters even consist of flashbacks to Gerald Moreton's life as both a Holocaust survivor and then trying to kill ex-Nazis around Europe. In my opinion these flashbacks were the best written because they really bring this dead man to life with his emotionally harrowing accounts of holocaust events, including the deaths of his parents as a child and the slaughter of his sisters. At times these flashback chapters made me feel for Gerald Moreton (aka Gershon Matzkin) more than any other character in the story, and it made me, as well as the protagonists, question if his underground slaughter of ex-Nazis who escaped a capital punishment is as morally reprehensible as what he endured during World War II.
That said, the rest of the characters were very well-written too. Tom Byrne begins as a slightly unlikeable protagonist, as a lawyer who will work for any shady character and use all the tricks in the books to get his clients off if the money's right. In truth, Tom is in fact cynical of how the UN runs and has come far from the idealist young lawyer who fought for justice at the beginning of his career. Fortunately this particular case allows him to open up his true feelings about what he expected to be as a lawyer and what he ends up doing, and I empathize with him much more once this happens in the story. Rebecca Moreton is Gerald's daughter and at first begins as a very calm and capable woman in the presence of others, partially because of her job as a doctor. However there are many moments when her emotions suddenly get the better of her and she becomes fiery and irrational, just showing how the sudden death and other events within the story have affected her. The romance/sexual tension between Tom and Rebecca is developed well and seems realistic given the conflicts between the characters as their investigation reaches its climax. Yet there are a few secrets that she hiding from Tom as well, though, and I was surprised to realise these things as we approached the conclusion of the story. Supporting characters are also well-rounded. Tom's friend and superior Henning Munchau as a guy who knows full well how the politics of the UN works but trusts his friend to get to the bottom of the situation before it blows up in their faces. I found detective Jay Sherrill quite likeable because, despite his WASP-y nature and supposed smugness in dealing with the case, his elevated position makes him quite insecure with regards to his lack of inexperience and it shows as he makes his way in his investigation. My only problem is that despite his importance he disappears in the last few chapters despite being a crucial minor character to the story's progress.
As a whole the story is well paced and has a couple of twists and red herrings to make you unsure as to who or what the purpose of Gerald/Gershon's visit to New York, and the final chapter was very tense with me unsure how everything was going to end, but fortunately it concludes smoothly and (save for Sherrill's aforementioned disappearance in the epilogue) everything is tied up.
'The Last Reckoning' is an enjoyable read from Sam Bourne with only tiny flaws. It's based on real events (the research of which is recorded in the Author's Note and Acknowledgements) and these have been perfectly intertwined to make a suspenseful, but also emotionally powerful, thriller. If you like "intelligent" thriller novels then this will certainly whet your appetite. You can buy it for £5.59 on Amazon (or 1p and p&p on the Marketplace) which I think is a pretty good price.
(Review also found on Ciao under the username Anti_W)
Ever since Dan Brown brought out the first of his 'intelligent' thrillers, there has been a rise in other authors jumping on the bandwagon. In fact many books now are compared to his in both derogatory and praiseworthy ways. So when I first came across Sam Bourne's novels I expected something similar. As I quite enjoyed most of Brown's novels I know that any comparison means nothing in terms of expectation.
Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathon Freedland, an award-winning journalist and a columnist for the Guardian newspaper since 1997. His previous books have all been bestsellers and I expected no less of this one. I was, in fact, slightly disappointed to start with, but this soon changed as I read on.
The book starts quite explosively with the shooting of a suspect terrorist inside the compound of the UN premises in New York. When the body is turned over, it looks as if the UN will have a scandal on their hands, as the suspected terrorist is an old man, Gerald Merton, a Jew and a holocaust survivor.
In an attempt to mitigate liability, a former UN lawyer turned a Mafia styled stooge, Tom Byrne is sent to England to placate the victim's daughter, the beautiful Rebecca Merton.
It soon becomes clear that Gerald once Gershon Matskin, wasn't as innocent as it appeared. Reading through his diary of events in the Ghetto and how this changed victim into avenger, Tom finds himself on the run and in danger from unknown assassins.
The action moves from London back to New York and a final denouement with the potential to rock the foundations of the world.
Although this was slow to start, despite the initial action, it soon gripped me and I found it hard to put the book down. I read it when it first came out and have re-read it for this review. I bought the book as soon as it came out and kept it, as I knew I'd read it again.
The characters are such that it's almost impossible not to believe in them as real people. (More about this later). I came to care about them and what would happen to them. The 'ghost' of Gershon and his experiences both during the war and afterwards populates the book with devastatingly horrific experiences. It would have been so easy for the background story to overtake the present that I really admired the way Bourne brought out the slow change of each of the main characters as they responded to each new revelation.
Byrne is excellent as the once idealistic lawyer whose experiences of betrayal in UN policies send him the wrong way in his career. His growing love for Rebecca adds a touch of lightness in what could have been a very dark story.
Rebecca shines as the tormented daughter of a very loved father and her quest for vengeance leads to some stunning twists in the story.
It's these twists that keep the pages turning and the revelations are as topical now as when the book was first published. We think of the UN as the last barrier between the genocide of nations, particularly with all the unrest in the world today. But the book isn't political, but rather an affirmation of life and it's ultimate triumph over the deepest darkest hours in a nation's history. It might sound heavy reading, but it's not an earnest book. It's very readable just as a thriller.
Sam Bourne has drawn on several other books and his own interest in his Jewish background to keep the background events as true to life as possible. The characters might be fictitious, but they are based on real people and this brings realism that enhances how you feel about the people. Love them or hate them, they cannot be ignored.
I learnt a lot about the Holocaust and it's aftermath that I didn't know before. In both the Author's Note and Acknowledgments the truth of some events changed my way of thinking about the Jewish victims. I learnt they didn't go as quietly to the slaughter as I had thought. This misconception is addressed in the book, so my thoughts about it are not meant as criticism. There are some names and events that can be checked on the Internet. I chose not to because I thought the book was powerful in it's own right.
I recommend it highly.
The book is available on Amazon for 4.69 pounds new. I paid about five pounds for my copy but that was 2008. You can buy it second-hand though.
Having just completed a course on Holocaust literature I thought I would get away from it and enjoy a more casual, fictional novel - How wrong I was with this book! I had no idea from the back cover that this would involve a detailed insight into the Holocaust, the Jewish ghettos and some of the repurcussions of it.
To start off with I will round up the synopsis of the novel. Tom Byrne is a former UN lawyer currently working for the mafia to tidy up lawsuits and earn himself big bucks. However when a seemingly innocent old man is killed walking into the UN in a case of mistaken identity (the gunmen had been told the old man could be a terrorist threat) Tom is immediately contacted to help pull the UN out of a scandalous mess that could ruin their own impartial role in world events.
However as Tom investigates the case, flying out to visit the daughter of the deceased he discovers that this man was not who he seemed. In fact he was a Holocaust survivor something which if brought into the open would make the situation even worse for the UN.
Tom desperately tries to coerce the mans daughter into accepting an apology and compensation fee from the UN in order to supress her story. Yet he soon discovers that deceased is not just a Holocaust survivor but an avenger - he set out in a secret brotherhood to track down the remaining Nazi's and kill them as revenge.
There are many twists in the plot along the way that keep you guessing in this book and there is a very skilful use of narration to move seeminglessly from the present day to the Second World War ghetto's in order to fill the reader in with important parts of the story as it develops.
The ghetto accounts are particularly well written and from my own reading of factual ghetto accounts are close reflections of the truth. Although the actual people may be made up e.g the name of the Holocaust survivor and his accomplices in the ghetto the events are based on fact - there was a secret collaboration of Jews that sought out the surviving Nazi's to inflict revenge.
Very well researched and written novel.
When an NYPD terror suspect steps foot on to UN property in New York the UN security take the warning seriously and shoot the suspect. Instead of a terror suspect however, they have shot 77 year old British tourist Gerald Merton. The UN turn to one of their former employees, lawyer Tom Byrne to go to England and make peace with Merton's daughter Rebecca. Once in England with Rebecca things start to unfold that hint that Gerald Merton wasn't quite as innocent as he made out, some shocking revelations are about to spill forward.
I actually bought this book thinking it was a totally different author and lead character. Having read Sam Bourne's debut novel The Righteous Men I didn't really hold out much hope. That book had failed to really hold my attention and didn't really have that addictive edge that would make me keep reading. So with a slight doubt in the back of my mind I decided that now I had the book I might as well give it a try and to be honest I'm now glad that I did.
Once again Bourne uses the Jewish faith as the basis for his story, but this time it focuses on a holocaust survivor and his story during and since the war brought into the modern day. The book gives a detailed account of Gerald Merton's take on events that actually happened during and after the war. Merton has researched these events and blended them into a modern day story with incredible effect and the way the book is set out gives a bit of a history lesson as you learn more about his lead characters.
As a result this is a far more addictive read than his debut effort and one that has totally changed my perception of Bourne's work. Unlike The Righteous Men you actually get a feel for the lead characters. Even after his death in the first few pages you feel a wide range of emotions about Gerald Merton. Hearing about his life growing up and his experiences during the war it makes you realise just why he did what he did in the years preceding the war.
The other living characters are just as important and I actually felt a connection with both Tom Byrne and Rebecca Merton. Both are very addictive lead characters and unlike Will Monroe in his debut novel they actually capture your imagination and make you care about what happens to them. The story is far more compelling, although that might have something to do with the historical aspect of the novel. With his first novel I was quite impressed with the factual side of the novel and again he succeeds in providing the same level of detail into the back story.
Having expected so little from this book I was unable to put it down. It took just over 4 days to finish it and I found that every time I had a spare minute I was picking it up and trying to fit in a chapter to see what happened next. It's an element I really feel is important in fiction and this one certainly ticked all the boxes I was looking for. If you like historical fiction mixed with a modern day story lines along the Dan Brown route then you'll probably enjoy this. It may not have been the best start from Bourne but I was very impressed with this, his third novel.
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