Luca D`Andrea
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Set in the early 1970s, our story revolves around the three main characters, Marlene Wegener, a woman from a poor working class background who is charmed by and eventually marries Robert Wegener, a man so feared that nobody uses his first name, and Simon Keller, a strong self sufficient man who grew up in the mountains learning their ways and history and lives alone in his Mountain retreat along with his bibles and carvings.

Robert Wegener's story begins with losing his father in the final months of the Second World War, money now becoming short and food scarce, he aligns himself with an SS officer , bringing him information in return for food and money, even giving him the location of concealed Allied troops, from whom he had received treats; the SS officer cruelly dispenses with the Allied troops, and this leaves a mark on young Robert.

Later as the dying embers of the war play out, this same SS officer comes to Robert, still a child and asks for help in escaping over the mountain passes, Robert guides him and then executes him in cold blood, perhaps a foretaste of his new career.

Learning fast he becomes a feared criminal and smuggler and surrounds himself with hired help.

Marrying Marlene gives him a higher status in society and he starts to introduce himself to the Mafia, eventually becoming a trusted member. Marlene however starts to understand how her life will pan out and decides to make her escape, along with stolen jewellery belong to the Mafia. En route she loses control of her recently purchased car and leaves the road. Death was a surety until discovered by our strange man of the mountains, Simon Keller, who carries her to his home and treats her using traditional medicine. The beginnings of a new life and love story appear to form, but Simon has dark deep secrets and they slowly appear as the cracks widen. When she confesses the reason for her escape, and the fact that the Mafia will have hired a killer to track her down,known as the Trusted One, Simon makes his way down into the town for the first time in many years.

Swiftly dispatching the bodyguard, he then kills her husband and returns back to the mountains. However the Trusted One, a man lacking in empathy and feeling, embarks on the quest to find her, and using the most sadistic methods he gradually learns the real reason for her escape. By this time Marlene is a prisoner of Simon, having found out his madness and secrets. Several times she attempts to escape, but the snow covered mountains trap her and she is brought back and locked into the cellar with the beasts.

The Trusted One eventually finds the Mountain home and unlocks the door to the cellar, but Marlene using guile and skill disables him long enough to escape along with his weapon. It then becomes a battle between the mountain man and the Trusted One, allowing Marlene to make her escape to a new life

Recently translated from the Italian this book is a wonderful read, the story twists and turns as each character moves in and out and plays their part. 375 pages in hardback, a thrilling read in the old fashioned le Carre mould, don't read it on a dark snowy night though !

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Joshua Slocum
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