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by Sam Bourne
HarperCollins, December 2010
417 pages
ISBN: 0061875740

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's a huge gathering of important world figures at the United Nations in New York, and security is on high alert as a result. When the perimeter guards identify a suspicious figure, the interior guards are notified and end up shooting the supposed suicide bomber. As it turns out, the victim is a harmless old man who is merely bundled up against the cold. Sensing a disastrous publicity campaign against the Americans, the UN Secretary General calls upon an old friend, Tom Byrne, to meet with the man's family and offer them whatever it takes to bury the incident.

Gerald Merton's only surviving relative is his daughter, Rebecca, who lives in England. When Tom meets with her, she immediately rejects the offer. On the spur of the moment, Tom removes a journal from her apartment and learns the true story of Gerald Merton. Sixty years earlier, he had been very active in the Jewish underground movement. He was quite successful at infiltrating the German authority structure, since his physical appearance (blond hair, blue eyes, uncircumcised) was not Jewish at all.

The narrative alternates between the present day and the past as described in Merton's journals—I did wonder at the voluminous amount of information that Merton documented. During the war, his espionage activities directly resulted in the saving of lives. The underground group even engaged in plots to kill large groups of German soldiers. One of them, involving the poisoning of their bread, resulted in hundreds of deaths. After the war ended, Merton and a small group of men became assassins. Merton was extremely successful at this assignment; he never left a trace of evidence. Merton's story was a fascinating one. According to the Author's Notes, the narrative was based on real history. A group of Holocaust survivors did seek revenge for the Nazi slaughter of the Jews. The story of the poisoning of former SS officers was actually reported in The New York Times.

Of course, when Byrne learns all of this, he alerts his contact at the UN that there is much more to the story than originally believed, that Merton may actually have had a target in mind when he entered the UN. On the other hand, there is a sympathetic element in that he was a Holocaust survivor. Byrne and Rebecca work together to find the truth. Throughout the book, Byrne fights a powerful attraction to Rebecca. Unfortunately, this is the one area where the narrative doesn't hold up. Every time that Byrne is near Rebecca, he seems to experience an electric charge – there's always some kind of voltage, or current, or electrical reference that seems almost silly. Fortunately, the relationship does not play out in the expected way.

Bourne does an excellent job with the plotting and characterization of THE FINAL RECKONING. I could have lived without the romantic sub-story, but his depiction of the past as told through Merton's journals was gripping and exciting. The fact that much of the story was based on actual historical events added another layer of interest to the tale.

§ Formerly a training development manager for a large company, Maddy is now retired and continues to enable the addiction of crime fiction fans as owner of the online discussion group, 4 Mystery Addicts(4MA), while avidly reading in every possible free moment herself.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, January 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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