Friday, July 20, 2012

Guest Review: Strindberg's Star

Summary: A multilayered international thrill ride at breakneck pace, reminiscent of The Rule of Four

The Arctic, 1897: Nils Strindberg crashes his hydrogen balloon during the mysterious Andrée Expedition to the North Pole.

Germany, 1942: Gruesome and inexplicable experiments are performed on concentration camp prisoners.

Sweden, present-day: Cave diver Erik Hall finds a dead body wearing an ancient ankh, buried deep in an abandoned mine. Religious symbol expert Don Titelman seeks out Erik to study the ankh—but finds Erik dead. Don is the prime suspect, and soon he’s being chased across Europe to escape a secret society that will do anything to get their hands on the ankh. . . .

In this international bestseller, each of these fascinating strands weaves together to create a mind-blowing cross-genre thriller that includes arctic explorers, a secret railroad network, Norse mythology, Nazis, and ancient symbols—and a shocking secret that’s been hidden for centuries. -- Viking

When I heard all of the buzz surrounding STRINDBERG'S STAR by Jan Wallentin , I thought it might be a book that my dad would enjoy. STRINDBERG'S STAR is an international bestseller with rights sold in 20 countries so far, and it has riveted readers in Sweden, Germany, and France (where it has sold over 900,000 copies and reached #2 on the bestseller list). Telemoustique (Belgium) described this book as “a masterful novel of adventure, part 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, part Rule of Four, and [part] The Da Vinci Code. So I figured it would be right up his alley. Little did I know that it took a turn to the strange... and not something that my dad would normally pick up!

Here are his thoughts:

STRIDBERG’S STAR by Swedish author Jan Wallentin begins quite calmly as amateur diver Erik Hall, while diving in a flooded shaft of an abandoned mine, discovers a well preserved corpse grasping an ancient ankh. Hall instantly becomes a media novelty and attracts the attention of Don Titelman, a noted expert in religious symbols. When Hall is found murdered, Titelman becomes the prime suspect. After his arrest, attorney Eva Strand appears at the police station and volunteers to represent him in this criminal matter. In an odd development, Titelman and Strand are taken to the German Embassy in Sweden for questioning. After a lengthy interrogation they are imprisoned in the Embassy wine cellar. They somehow escape and begin a journey across Europe to avoid both the police and a ruthless German secret society that has a keen interest in acquiring the ankh and its companion piece, a star.

Wallentin utilizes many techniques typically found in a thriller novel. The reader will find conspiracy, mysticism, secret societies, Nazis, spooky cemeteries on a rainy night and of course a few Russians. Devices such as a photographic memory, psychic powers, super physical strength, and high-tech computer skills all play significant roles in the story.

Within the 447 page novel, Wallentin mixes historic fact with fiction to the point where it is hard to separate the two. He utilizes the 1887 Andree Expedition, a balloon flight to the Arctic as his premise to the original discovery of the ankh and star. I discovered that Strindberg was a photographer on the failed expedition. He also interjects historic facts about World War II along with stories of Nazi occult activity and horrid experiments on Holocaust victims. Wallentin utilizes real locales such as Ypres, France, Flanders Fields and Wewelsburg Castle and real people such as Strindberg and Himmler.

Sometimes the author expects the reader to believe too much in this chase for the ankh and star. For example, it seems that a get-a-way vehicle is always available for Titelman whether it’s a car with the keys intact, a secret train car or a helicopter. The clue solving capabilities of Titelman and Strand are a real stretch.

This is a novel where every character is unlikeable. Main character, Don Titelman, is a drug addict and alcoholic who carries his supply of pills at all times for quick relief. He failed as a medical doctor and took up a career as an expert on society symbols and myths. His life is tremendously impacted by the stories of Nazi horrors shared by his Jewish grandmother. As the novel progresses, you will soon realize that attorney Eva Strand is a very strange woman. Titelman’s sister, Hex, a loner, is a computer hacker and lives under an abandoned railroad station. Erik Hall is greedy and selfish. Elena possesses psychic powers that are utilized for evil. Other characters are deeply disturbed and are part of diabolic secret societies or are conspiring from other angles to acquire the ankh and star for selfish purposes.

STRINDBERG’S STAR is a mixture of many genres. At the beginning it’s a crime story that quickly turns into a thriller novel as Titelman and Strand are chased across Europe and lastly it delves into the supernatural. Although the supernatural is not my favorite genre, I will admit the novel had an element of a thriller that kept me interested right up to the very unusual ending that involved a mysterious underworld. If you’re a fan of the mysterious and the occult you might enjoy STRINDBERG’S STAR.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.

For those of you interested, there is a reading guide available for STRINDBERG'S STAR. It sounds like this book covers a lot of ground and there might be some interesting points for discussion.


bermudaonion said...

The mysterious and occult? Hm, I don't think that's for me.

Serena said...

This seems like something I would enjoy...thanks for the review.

Beth F said...

When read this: "This is a novel where every character is unlikeable," I became wary. I usually have to like at least one person.

Anna said...

I'm curious about how the author merges the supernatural with history, so I'd give this one a try.