“The Wreck” Bruno Hare (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Wreck Bruno Hare book cover“The Wreck” starts by telling two stories in parallel. One in 1940 of a Nazi warship carrying gold invading Norway, but sunk to the bottom of the Oslofjord. The topography of the landscape making it nearly impossible to retrieve the gold. The second story starts in 2009 with a has-been politician making one find bid for leadership, which he hopes will be boosted by the finding of the gold that sunk with the ship. The automatic swap between periods at the end of each chapter make it harder for readers to get to know characters.

The 1940’s story follows a pre-teen, Ivar, for whom the wreck sets off a tragic chain reaction which sees him become orphaned and recruited into the Norwegian resistance. After training, he infiltrates a maternity home, seemingly a place of safety and sanctuary where Norwegian woman have their babies delivered. The reality is however that the babies are often separated from their mothers to be brought up as part of a Aryan master-race under guidance of the home’s Nazi commander. Ivar also discovers that some of the pregnant women have been brainwashed into having their babies at the home, not all of them willingly became pregnant and some are still young teenagers. Still teenaged himself, Ivar, at gunpoint, has a stark choice: rape or be killed. He also believes that he is reporting back information to the Norwegian resistance, not realising the commander’s using him as a double agent. This leads to Ivar being seen as a traitor and war criminal once the war is finally over.

The 2009 story follows the has-been politician, Henrik Bonde’s attempts to revive his political career and find the gold that sank with the ship. The link between the two stories is Ivar, whom the politician arranges to be released from jail and who knows the location of the wreck. Local police start trailing Henrik Bonde when they receive a tip off about an assassination attempt. Or at least, relative rookie, Ingrid Hansen tries to follow it up while her supervisors tell her to drop it. She recruits an ex-policeman to help. Men hired by Bonde dive and retrieve the gold, only to discover it’s stolen from them and a chase ensues for them to find either which of them is a traitor or who has stolen the gold from them. Not unnaturally, they suspect Bonde is behind the theft. Can an inexperience detective save the politician and retrieve the gold?

The 2009 story is a fairly conventional, successful thriller and so sets the template for the 1940s’ story. This forces the latter into a format straitjacket and some of the more interesting aspects of the story feel underdeveloped as a result. Readers are introduced to one teenager, Eva, the child Ivar rapes at gunpoint (whilst still a child himself), but never see her story except through Ivar’s eyes. It stretches credibility that Eva can delight in being pregnant, even though she doesn’t know the baby will be taken away from her, without knowing more about her. It’s not until the end we learn that not only did the child survive, but Ivar discovered his whereabouts and watched without making contact. Perhaps there could be a sequel.

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