Karl Braun is not whom he seems. Can this rather lonely middle-aged man, living in London on a meagre wage as a piano tuner really be a Nazi war criminal? This is an extraordinary story about someone living incognito in London to escape being tried for his past atrocities.
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THE GLASS PEARLS
Karl Braun is not whom he seems. Can this rather lonely middle-aged man, living in London on a meagre wage as a piano tuner really be a Nazi war criminal? This is an extraordinary story, originally published 50 years ago, about someone living incognito in London to escape being tried for his past atrocities.
Dr Otto Reitmuller performed notorious brain experiments on Jews in concentration camps during the second world war. Whilst clearly evil and culpable, we meet the rather quiet and unassuming Karl Braun, living a simple clandestine life in Pimlico, London 20 years later. Yet we soon discover that Braun’s survival is complex, always looking over his shoulder, fearing the worst, imagining that any moment he is going to give himself away.
When Braun’s fellow lodger, Strohmayer, gives Braun prime concert tickets, he invites Helen Taylor from the estate agents he used to find his accommodation. Young, energetic, and a single mother, they are hardly the likely match, but Braun is swept away by her companionship – the question being, will he reveal too much about himself and be found out? Helen knows nothing of his covert life, but is drawn towards his charming gentlemanly behaviour until events spiral when he takes her on a weekend to Paris.
What makes this novel remarkable is the writer Pressburger’s own background. It is well worth reading Anthony Quinn’s forward about his life from his birth in Hungary, his time in Berlin which he regarded as home, before his escape to Paris and then London when the Nazis rose to power. But it was the German people who held his affection, which probably explains his affinity with the personality he creates for Karl Braun. Whilst Braun/Reitmuller’s crimes are monstrous, he doesn’t create a monster, perhaps until the end when, without giving too much away, you discover the depth of his deceit.
The Den were blown away by this hidden gem of a book. It has the amazing ability to allow you to sympathise with this mild-mannered gentleman, even though you know he is totally evil which puts the reader in an uncomfortable position. The tension is built up beautifully and it becomes a real page-turner as you are drawn into Braun’s paranoia. Pressburger was a successful film maker and this book certainly has the feel of film noir.