Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bragging rights

Although the Amazon review posted below is of Erika Holzer's Freedom Bridge and we're justly gratified about it--5.0 out of 5 stars, entitled Cold War Thriller With A Message--I'm reprinting it here for what it says about the place of moral issues in popular fiction. Too often today's thrillers, mysteries, and the like merely tell stories--often engaging, but rarely making a moral point in the telling. The anonymous author of this review "gets it." (X's review is exactly as it appears on Amazon.)


 My first reading of this book was in the early '80s, far too long ago to pick out the revisions Ms. Holzer did for this edition, but no matter. "Freedom Bridge" will transport you to the aftermath of the U2 incident in the blink of an eye and make you forget that the Soviet Union is no more. The sense of suffocating totalitarian malice, the sense of urgency in the face of certain death, the suspense of imminent betrayal under the highest of stakes, are as palpable and immediate in this novel as this morning's headlines.

Holzer weaves a plot that becomes a kind of literary origami - I won't do spoilers, but suffice it to say that her original title "Double Crossing" is a serious understatement, a play-on-words several times over. As a reader repeatedly disappointed in spy thrillers so complex that they're nearly unreadable, "Freedom Bridge" is a refreshing surprise. Rather than miring the story in a quicksand of frustrating complexity, its multiplying plot convolutions work together so logically that they actually *clarify* rather than muddle. The analogy to an elaborate jigsaw puzzle is perhaps a cliché, but in this case it fits.

The characters in this novel could not be more different from one another - in culture, in ethics and in motives - but Holzer draws them together from those disparate points as if by a gargantuan magnet. Ground zero is the Glienecker Bridge between East and West Berlin, and the resulting multi-faction clash is at once understated and explosive. An edgy, brooding atmosphere throughout accelerates with a cinematic flow that makes me think "Freedom Bridge" would make a great movie - provided someone could be found in that industry with the integrity to do it justice. Holzer's exposition of these different personalities, particularly in context of their ethics and moral choices, does positively wonderful things to the integration of plot and theme.

That theme, the magnet that pulls everything together in Cold War Berlin, is of course: Freedom.

Holzer makes freedom not just "the moral of the story" but the motive that animates the actions - and for some, the transitions - of the characters. For Soviet defector Kiril, it's an overriding passion worth dying for; for American journalist and kindred spirit Adrienne, it's a value fully grasped and vigorously defended; for the Soviet and East German communist operatives, it's a threat to be hated, crushed and, unmistakably, feared - in much the same way that a liar fears the truth; for an underling assigned to spy on Kiril, it becomes an unbearable conflict of allegiances; for a corrupt doctor waffling between the two poles, it becomes an object of disdain to be ignored and betrayed.

All of which means that "Freedom Bridge" is a choices-driven morality play that becomes a timely meditation on something too often taken for granted in today's world. If you're looking for a read that's of significantly greater long-term value than passing entertainment, "Freedom Bridge" is an excellent choice.