It is October 1998 and Chasca Broderick has rushed home to the USA from her work with the War Crimes Tribunal in Sarajevo to attend her grandfather’s funeral. Theodore Broderick had been a lawyer, an eminent legal academic, an adviser to presidents, a Supreme Court Justice, and a defence attorney at the Nuremberg Trials.
Chasca had shared a special bond with “Grandpa Theo”. He had inspired her to study law at Harvard and had encouraged her to eschew a career as a wealthy corporate lawyer to become an underpaid international law and human rights counsel at the United Nations.
After the funeral, Chasca slips away from the family gathering at her grandfather’s house to reminisce about the happy times she had spent there with Grandpa Theo. She is drawn to her favourite room, the library, sits at his desk and looks idly through the drawers. In one she finds an old sheaf of papers, written in German (a language which Chasca studied at Harvard), the memoir of a holocaust survivor, Joachim Gutman.
Reading Gutman’s papers, Chasca senses a miscarriage of justice at the trial of German Wilhelm Deutch, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947. Theodore Broderick had unsuccessfully defended Deutch at the Nuremberg trial. Chasca realises the papers, which would have had a bearing on the case, had not come into Broderick’s possession until after the trial.
Gutman’s memoir paints Deutch, as an “ordinary guy”, a “mechanic” at the concentration camps, someone who only “twiddled knobs on the gas ovens”. Furthermore, Gutman asserts Deutch was not a “mass murderer”, but a man who had saved his life and should have been “feted as a hero”, a “saviour”.
As a memorial to her grandfather, Chasca sets about righting the injustice he had been unable to defend at Nuremberg. She visits Israel and Berlin, looking for clues to help her find Gutman, and if not the man himself, then his descendants and, if necessary, the descendants of the wrongly hanged, Deutch.
From its opening at the bitterly cold, windswept graveside of Theodore Broderick, to the harsh flashbacks from Deutch’s trial and Gutman’s contemporary testimonial of life and death in the German concentration camps, this reviewer found Alan Gold’s novel, The Mechanic, a sombre and sometimes difficult read.
In a similar vein to Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Gold explores how ordinary Germans, such as a mechanic, got caught up in the Nazi fervour whose tracks led to the inhumanity of the concentration camps and the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. However, despite Gutman’s account of Deutch as a “good German”, like the trial judge and defence counsel, Broderick, the reader is never quite convinced of Deutch’s innocence. It is Chasca’s destiny to uncover the half century old truth hidden in Gutman’s papers.
Robert Fairhead is a middle-aged dad and dog owner. He is currently working on a blog and writers website. You can follow him on Twitter at @tallandtrue