Werewolf is the second book from Matthew Pritchard and quickly proved itself a bit of a hit with this reader. Set in Germany at the close of World War II, the story focusses on the discovery of two corpses, one of them a former Waffen SS soldier, in the basement of a house requisitioned by British troops. Detective Silas Payne of Scotland Yard has been seconded to Germany to assist with the Allied policy of denazification, and finds himself drawn into the investigation, which quickly spirals into a hunt for a ruthless serial killer.
A very simple analogy for this book would be Foyle’s War with added ‘grrr’, as Payne is quickly revealed as a determined, but curiously passive and empathetic character, who carries the weight of his role in the book with a wonderfully understated air, despite the horrors that await him. I found him a very enjoyable protagonist, with his sure and steady character beautifully juxtaposed with the more testosterone fuelled characters in evidence amongst the British Army protagonists. As the book progresses, Pritchard carefully interweaves the corruption of some soldiers as the Allied troops stake their claim on German properties and possessions, skilfully interwoven with truly heartfelt diversions into the mental state of some others as a result of their combat service and witnessing the death camps. As Payne’s investigation starts to jangle some nerves amongst the less than honest protagonists, Pritchard carefully uses this to bring into the story some fascinating historical detail of the period, and the behaviour- both good and bad- of the Allied forces in the context of denazification on the German citizenry, and the avid hunt for the worst perpetrators of war crimes amongst the German military echelons. This was genuinely eye-opening for me, as so much is written about the turning points, and major confrontations during the theatre of war itself, but I quickly realised how little I knew about the fate of Germany in peacetime, and Pritchard provides a balanced and truthful interpretation of the effects on the ordinary German populace, along with the more familiar hunt for Nazi war criminals. Pritchard also incorporates the story of a young German woman, Ilse, formerly married to a high ranking Nazi, who now finds herself living a life of subterfuge to conceal her former links with the enemy, and the way she uses her manipulative feminine wiles to evade punishment. With the arrival back into her life of her callous brother, with his plans for escape from Germany, all her resourcefulness is called on to save her own skin, but will she succeed? Thrown into the already gripping mix is Payne’s hunt for a serial killer, and Pritchard carefully inserts small vignettes from the killer’s point of view, which consistently beguile the reader as to his true identity, and instilling in us a grudging admiration for how he has remained undetected for so long, despite a few close calls. With the impetus of the book not solely focussed on this storyline, this worked really well, with the sense of danger slowly growing as the other storylines ebbed and flowed around this. I didn’t feel, as I usually do when this structure is employed, a bigger compunction to get from one storyline back to another, as all of them melded seamlessly together, with definite and cohesive points of interest in each.
I enjoyed the path of Payne’s investigation immensely, and the attendant barricades he faces, and with Pritchard’s control of the other multifarious storylines remaining constant throughout, there was no decrease in my overall engagement with the book. I learnt a few things I didn’t know along the way, as well as being shocked and entertained in equal measure. It’s always a delight to discover a new author, and having missed the first book from Matthew Pritchard, Scarecrow, I will be back-tracking to read this as well. Overall Werewolf proved itself an intelligent and well-conceived thriller, and a thoroughly good read.