Marshall Browne






William Hennemann Australia, 2009.
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith


January 23, 1939 is a big day for Berlin's Reichsbank - it has a new President and a new Chief Auditor. The latter is Franz Schmidt, recently divorced, and the saviour of Bankhaus Wertheim. The Reichsbank is the financial heart of the Third Reich, and Schmidt has been placed there by Manfred von Streck, a high-ranking member of the Nazi Party. Schmidt's role at present will be a watching one, von Streck's eyes and ears. He will report directly to Dr Walther Funk, the bank's president. But he knows von Streck will require more of him.

Politically this is a time when even members of the Nazi party are divided about the future of Germany. Ideas of cleansing the population are gaining ascendance, with the Gestapo actively hunting down Jews and other "traitorous" elements. However not everyone in the party likes Hitler and there have already been plots to assassinate him. Party zealots though are insistent that everyone in high office should be a party member, and that there is no room for anyone in a public institution like the Reichsbank for anyone who isn't. Franz Schmidt is a badge wearing party member, but this doesn't stop the zealots wondering how he got the job of Chief Auditor.

In Franz Schmidt's case his party membership is a camouflage, acquired for the same reason that he divorced his wife: to make it easier to undermine Nazism from within. Schmidt quickly realises that he will need to tread carefully in the Reichsbank: there are Nazi zealots like President Funk and the statuesque Fraulein Brandt, head of the Precious Metals Deaprtment, who will be watching his every move. And then Fischer, a non-party member, head of Foreign Bank Relations, is murdered on the eve of a trip to Switzerland.

THE IRON HEART is a thriller rather than a murder mystery. I haven't read many books set in the period immediately before the outbreak of World War 2. Browne has made me think about how dangerous it became in the face of rising Nazism to be a non-Nazi, a Jew, an aristocrat, or simply associated with one of these people. As Schmidt tries to achieve the task von Streck sets him, the danger for him, and the tension in the story, increases. The Gestapo are watching him and any false step will give them the opportunity to take him. It makes for very satisfying reading.

In THE IRON HEART Marshall Browne obviously draws on considerable research into the period, as well as his own background as an international banker. THE IRON HEART is the second title in the series. The first was THE EYE OF THE ABYSS.

Marshall Browne is an Australian author living in Melbourne. He came to attention when he won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel in 2000 with THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS. Browne began writing in the 1970s as a "Sunday morning" writer, when living in Hong Kong. His first title CITY OF MASKS was published in 1981, and he now has thirteen published titles.

Apr 2009 review originally posted on Murder and Mayhem


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