Poor Simon Roberts. He doesn’t know what he’s in for. He fled England because he had made one too many mistakes in the criminal world. Now in Germany he hopes to make his entry into the jewelry heist business by acting as the getaway driver. Things go very, very wrong for him and he ends up in Rhinehoth prison, which is an isolated ancient castle that was converted to a prison in WWII. Rhinehoth has many secrets and Simon is afraid of most of them.
Earlier this year, I read the classic The Sound of His Horn by Sarbanand this spooky, suspenseful tale has echoes of that classic. Isolated German castle – Check! Aristocratic jailers bent on a ‘higher’ purpose – Check! Strange, beast like qualities in some of the humans – Check! Dark mystery and deep suspense – Check! If you have enjoyed that classic, then I think you would like this book because it has much of the same flavor but with more going on. There’s werewolves and vampires and an ancient hero come to life and deep questions about choosing morally right over instinct. Quite frankly, I wish we had had two days of thunderstorms so I could listen to this book with lightning flashing outside my windows and rolling thunder above.
Simon Roberts starts off as a fairly simple man. Stuff always ‘happens’ to him (he’s never the architect of his own circumstances, according to him). Indeed, he’s a little bit of a whiner. Then he gets sent to Rhinehoth and stuff really does start happening to him that is weird and dangerous and often leaves bruises. I started to feel for the guy. For a chunk of the book, he does fumble around, simply trying to serve out his time. Then this mix of curiosity and self-preservation pushes him to look around a bit more. With his friends Mouse and Michael, they come across some really questionable things, like lots of bodies hanging suspended in vats. Ugh!
Dr. Maxine Huellen is the daughter of the warden (Adolph). Well, adopted daughter. She has a lot of secrets. She’s got these ice blue eyes and Simon finds he’s very drawn to her. In fact, he has several sexual dreams of her. The story makes much out of these dreams, but I have to say that Simon is dreaming what most of the inmates are dreaming, since it appears that Maxine in is the only female on the premises. For much of the story, she is the only female and nearly her entire role is as the sex object/object of affection, though we do occasionally get glimmers that she actually has a degree and does use it from time to time. A few other ladies appear much later in the book, such as Esmerelda (who is highly sexualized) and some witches.
Simon starts having these rather vivid memories that he’s not sure are his memories. The first one is from his childhood and involves wolves. Then a little later in the story he has a very, very long flashback of a dream that explains a chunk of the Rhinehoth history. While I enjoyed this part of the story, it really did take me out of the main story line for a significant amount of time. Also, I felt the timeline became a bit muddled. The book description talks about ancient times, centuries past. Yet I think that tanks and Hitler were mentioned in this long flashback, so I was definitely confused as to what happened when.
The last two or three hours of the book felt really sped up to me. A lot happens in those last hours whereas the pace has been steady throughout the rest of the book. For instance, Simon takes several weeks to become a trained fighting man in the space of perhaps three sentences. Still, the ending did maintain the tension we’ve had for the entire book and Simon has this big chance to show his true grit. This final bit of the book really plays out questions of souls, the morale good, might vs. right, etc. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the end, I just wish it had the same page time as the rest of the book. All in all, it was a worthy suspenseful tale of werewolves and vampires that relied on characters and plot and not so much on gore and body count.
I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Narration: The narration is OK. The main narrator, John Pennington, sounds bored most of the time. Then other character voices (and I think some are performed by other narrators though I can’t find a credit to them) cut in and out, sometimes overlapping Pennington’s narration by a beat or two, and sometimes they aren’t the same volume. Then there are some sound effects here and there, but for most of the story they are so quiet I am wondering what they are and if they are really on the audiobook. The editing does get better as the story moves forward. The ladies especially put a lot of emotion into their characters. In fact, the performance of all the female characters is very theatrical and shows a distinct difference to Pennington’s subdued performance.