PILGRIM SOUL: GORDON FERRIS

Posted: July 9, 2013 in Book Awards, Germany, Historical, Scotland, Uncategorized

51c0Fu8cTKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_In the third book in the Douglas Brodie series it is the winter of 1946/47, one of the coldest in memory. Brodie now a journalist but formerly a cop and a Major in the army is asked by his landlady [with benefits] Advocate Samantha Campbell to solve the burglaries occurring in Glasgow’s Jewish community. Crimes in which the local police had shown a distinct lack of interest. Brodie quickly solves the crimes, but when the perpetrator is murdered while breaking into a safe owned by a Lithuanian Jew, who might not be a Jew, the situation becomes more complex.

Are there Nazis hiding in Glasgow before resuming their journeys to South America via the Rattenlinien? May they even be hiding within the Jewish community?

Isaac’s place of worship was built about twenty years after Garnethill, at the turn of the century. It looked after the burgeoning Gorbals’ enclave. Jewish one-upmanship  [And sense of humour] dictated that they called the Johnny-come-lately the Great Synagogue. 

Samantha is involved as a prosecutor in the new wave of war crime trials starting in Hamburg, and Brodie is recruited by MI5, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and sent off to Germany to re-interview Nazis, and give evidence about his previous interviews before the Belsen war crime trials. Brodie is still traumatised by his work during those trials, although he is determined to track down those who organise the ratlines. The whole situation becomes even more fraught when on his return to Scotland the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi aim to meet out their own brand of justice to the Nazis.

I found this a difficult book to read and at times almost came to tears, which is probably a tribute to the clarity of the writing as well as the subject matter.

Shimon was born here from parents who’d pushed a cart two thousand miles from Estonia to Scotland seeking shelter from the Tsar’s murderous hordes. 

The educational value of a book that recounts the real life horrors of the Holocaust, while pointing out that the crimes were committed by rather ordinary human beings is immense. The book is well written and told in a matter of fact first person by Brodie, a great creation of whom I hope we hear a lot more. The atmosphere of post war austerity and the male dominated culture where marriage automatically meant the end of a woman’s career are conveyed accurately by the author who has researched deeply into the events of  that period. Gordon Ferris doesn’t shy away from the controversial, mentioning the gradual collapse of the mandate in Palestine, the problems of the movement of vast numbers of people as the Iron Curtain cut Europe in half, and the involvement of the CIA and even rogue priests in the Vatican in the ratlines. Pilgrim Soul has a good believable plot, interesting characters, and a blast of historical information that must never be forgotten.

The rest were former SS officers or medics at Ravensbruck, its sub-camps or other camps. Together they formed a roll  call of the most terrible places on earth: Auschwitz, Belsen, Treblinka and Buchenwald. 

Gordon Ferris has produced one of the most memorable crime fiction books I have read for some time. Pilgrim Soul was deservedly nominated for the 2013 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award.

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Comments
  1. And given everything you have said here, Norm, I wonder if this may be the winner.

    This one, along with Aly Monroe’s Black Bear are on my ‘must read soon’ lists. Now jostling for pole position …

  2. FictionFan says:

    This really is a great book. Ferris has taken a real step up with it – the previous books were very enjoyable but, as you point out, this one covers some serious stuff and does so sensitively and well. Great review!

  3. Jose Ignacio says:

    Norman sounds as a serious contender for the Ellis Award. Anyway I’m much incline to read it thanks to your review. Unfortunately I have to be very selective since time (and reading time in particular) is a scarce commodity.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Rhian, Pilgrim Soul is a very different book from Black Bear much more upfront and in your face. I will have only read three out of the six EP shortlist so shouldn’t really choose a winner, but I might….

    Jose Ignacio, reading time is a problem for me, but I think I have done quite well in reading 4 Int Dagger and 3 Ellis Peters in just over a month, plus 4 other books.

  5. Norman – As always, an excellent review. It’s never easy for an author to broach such difficult subject matter without being melodramatic. I’m glad Ferris strikes that balance well here. I think it’s the taking of this subject matter to a human level that makes it unforgettable.

  6. philipjwr says:

    Like you I very much enjoyed “Pilgrim Soul”. The Douglas Brodie series goes from strength to strength especially in the characterisation of the formidable Brodie himself and Samantha Campbell.

    As you enjoyed the telling of this important story then I would heartily recommend “Ratlines” by Stuart Neville which covers the same subject matter but in his case in the role that the Republic \of Ireland had to play in this. He also uses a real life character, ex Taoiseach Charles Haughey when he was Minister of Justice. Haughey had a dominant role in Irish politics post WW2 and was a pretty controversial figure with a variety of scandals and corruption to his name which eventually led to his downfall. Neville captures this side of the man very well. He also picks up another controversial theme in Irish politics, that of Irish men serving in the British Army in WW2, through his main character, Albert Ryan. Ryan like Brodie carries some scars from his days of service but doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing.

  7. kathy d. says:

    Very good interview on what sounds like a terrific book. If I read books about WWII and its aftermath, I’d read this. The history of Shimon reminds me of my grandparents’ emigration from czarist-occupied Poland in 1907 to New York City. They were fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms.

    This book may cover a bit too much of the Nazi horrors for me to “enjoy,” but I am interested. Sounds like a well-written, compelling book.

  8. TracyK says:

    Thanks for this very thorough review. My husband and I both want to read this series, just haven’t purchased any of them yet.

  9. kathy d. says:

    I am reading this and enjoying it; Douglas Brodie is a great character who tells the truth.

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