26 April 2013

Review: Brandenburg by Glenn Meade

Brandenburg: A Thriller was first published in 1994, and it shows. There is a 1997 edition also for sale on Amazon, and the reviews are extremely mixed, with the same number of 1-star reviews as 5-star. It’s now been republished by Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that publishes Christian crossover fiction.

The cool 2013 cover disguises the fact that Brandenburg is set in 1994 and hasn’t been updated either in content or in writing style. In a way that’s good—the story just wouldn’t add up if it was set in 2013—but in some ways it’s bad. It would have been easier to get into the plot if it was made clear the book was set in 1994, rather than leaving the reader to work it out through clues like references to CD’s, tape recorders, phones with cords and the Times Atlas (no Google Earth or Wikipedia in this universe).

And how do I know Brandenburg was definitely set in 1994? It opens on Wednesday, November 23, and it only took a couple of minutes on my phone’s calendar app to work out that November 23 was a Wednesday in 1994, 2005 or 2011. And 2005 and 2011 are too late for the technology described in the book.

So, what’s Brandenburg about? The blurb describes it as “a British agent and a German woman find themselves unraveling a plot to bring about the Fourth Reich”. Maybe so, but Joseph Volkmann and Erika Kranz don’t discover what the plot is until past the halfway point—until then they are merely trying to discover who killed Erica’s cousin, a South American journalist who was chasing a story that had German connections.

My main problem with the plot is that it just wasn’t thrilling. I finished reading at the 80% mark when I realised I really didn’t care enough about any of the characters to want to find out what happened at the end (at a guess, given that this was set in 1994 and Berlin is still standing, the good guys won). A reviewer on Amazon said “Meade doesn’t give anything away until the last quarter of the book and that's what makes such an intriguing read”. Each to their own, but I kept waiting for something to happen, and I kept being disappointed. On the plus side, my housework got done.

Meade’s writing is compared to Dan Brown, which should have warned me off. I don’t like Dan Brown’s writing, and I don’t like Meade’s. It goes against all the guidelines of modern fiction (possibly because it was written before the guidelines were). It’s full of uninteresting narrative and long dumps of information that don’t really seem in character (the first conversation between Volkmann and Kranz was a case in point). There is a lot of violence, some of which is gore for the sake of it as it serves little or no purpose in forwarding the plot. The third-person point of view flips between characters so much as to be confusing. And not making the time period clear didn’t help. It has no Christian content at all, despite being published by Simon & Schuster’s Christian imprint.

On a more positive note, Brandenburg is tightly-plotted, although the profusion of cardboard characters that only manages to avoid complete confusion by focusing mostly on Volkmann. If you’re looking for a good modern Christian thriller I’d sooner recommend Noel Hynd, Don Brown (who writes US Navy legal thrillers, and shouldn’t be confused with Dan Brown) or Richard L Mabry.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Glenn Meade at his website.

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