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by Stav Sherez
Penguin, February 2006
464 pages
ISBN: 0141014067

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In a bleak Amsterdam park, the body of a murdered man is found and Detective Ronald Van Hijn is called in on the case. A series of eight young women have been kidnapped, tortured, killed and left on the streets and because of the nature of the marks on the body of the man, Van Hijn thinks there is a connection to the other murders. In the victim's pocket is a book with the name and address of someone in London, Jon Reed. Van Hijn contacts and asks him to travel to Amsterdam and identify the body.

In London, weeks earlier, Jon Reed had become interested in a homeless man and invited him in to share his apartment. The man, Jake Colby, was quiet but let Jon in on something of his unusual background. Suddenly he disappeared and Jon had no idea where Jake had gone until he received the call from Amsterdam. Unable to stop thinking about the strange old man, Jon agrees to identify the body -- and to try to find out what happened.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, a young troubled American woman, Suze, has become obsessed with a Jewish artist by the name of Charlotte Salomon who was killed in the Second World War by the Nazis. Salomon's works are housed in Amsterdam's Jewish History Museum and that's where Suze spends her days.

In this exceptionally well-written and executed book, all the people in it have painful personal histories that have had a powerful effect on their lives. Detective Van Hijn's father was thought to have been a war hero in World War II, and he grew up in that glorious shadow -- that is until the truth came out and showed his father to have been a Nazi and a killer. Van Hijn's career and home life were poisoned by that revelation.

In Colorado during her childhood, Suze and her parents were witnesses to a horribly violent robbery and the family broke apart, leaving Suze with a taste for sexual release in bondage and pain.

Jon was raised to be ashamed of being Jewish and so he feels adrift in life, always the outsider. He finds solace in drugs and music.

The murdered man, Jake also had a strange history. His father was a powerful businessman and Jake hated him with all his soul. As a young man he turned to piercing and scarring his body in order to enjoy the self-inflicted pain. When Jake found out that his father had stolen him as a baby from a Jewish family that was later killed by the Nazis, Jake went to the country of his birth parents, Amsterdam, and tried to find out about them at the Jewish History Museum.

And the Amsterdam Jewish History Museum is the place that brings and connects all of the characters in the book together.

THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is a multi-layered, dark and powerful book. It defies an easy description. World War II looms large in the landscape of this story, as the population of this book, both leads and secondary characters, all are moved and motivated in their present life, by the horrific things that happened during the war. The camp experiments, the idea of the power and pleasure of pain by both watchers and participants, the present state of the media, and the groups of people who are interested in every side of these topics are all included in this story. All of this is involved in the investigation of a modern murder.

This is one of the few modern books that manages to include the horrors of Holocaust and the Second World War in a deeply thoughtful, powerful and respectful way. This book will haunt, frighten, and disturb you, and it will also make you think.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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