Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen

22571786The Alphabet House, published in its original language in Danish in 1997 as Alfabethuset, is a psychological suspense thriller that brings to the fore not only author Jussi Adler-Olsen’s life and experiences as the son of a senior consultant in psychiatry but also as one who witnessed firsthand how life is in psychiatric hospitals in Denmark.

This novel which contains two parts set in different time periods and places is an absolutely fascinating and riveting thriller. One part is set in Nazi Germany during the World War II while the other part is set in England of the 1970s. Two British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young, who are childhood friends, are on a photo reconnaissance mission over Nazi Germany when they are shot down. With enemies hot in pursuit, they escaped their pursuers by boarding a train reserved for senior SS soldiers wounded on the Eastern Front. When desperate situation calls for desperate measures, the two RAF pilots assumed the identities of two mentally ill SS officers whose bodies they threw off the train. They are taken to a psychiatric hospital for senior SS officers near Freiburg in Southwestern Germany.

But the Alphabet House is not a safe place either. It holds more than the obvious concerns for the two escaping but caged RAF pilots. The condition is horrifyingly despicable as the inmates are subjected to various forms of shock treatments and experimental drug. There are also others like them who are feigning madness, and they are suspicious of James and Bryan. Their friendship, spirit and physical endurance are put to the severest test as they experienced horror unimaginable. Bryan managed to escape but James is not so lucky. He returns to find out what happened to his closest friend.

The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen is powerful, suspenseful and delightful. It sucks you in without letting go. While some may be incline to believe this novel is about war, it is not. It is only partially about war. But as a whole, it is a psychological thriller set in the secure mental hospital in the heart of Germany, with the chances of escape very remote. So real and intense is the imagery of the horrors of mental institutes that readers will feel physically transported to witness it. A compelling read by all means, this story of friendship, love and survival is a perfect thriller you won't want to miss.


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