The wrongdoing of others

This is my review of The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook.

Promoted to Colonel's rank for an act of courage, Lewis Morgan is posted to the British Zone in Hamburg, devastated by the force of Allied bombing, to supervise the "denazification" and restoration of civilian life in the aftermath of World War 2. It seems clear that his dislike of bureaucracy and evident sympathy for ordinary Germans will land him in hot water. Sadly, his empathy does not extend to his wife Rachael: prolonged separation and a family tragedy have driven a wedge between the two. Tensions are compounded by Lewis's unconventional, perhaps naïve decision (inspired by a similar real event in the author's family history) to share the impressive dwelling in which his family has been billeted with its defeated German owners, the cultured, spontaneous architect Lubert and his stroppy teenage daughter Frieda.

From the outset, I felt in the hands of a writer confident in his skilful plot and complex, well-drawn characters. He makes it all look deceptively easy, and slips in evidence of detailed period research quite subtly. Although you can guess some of the main plot developments, the denouement is always in doubt so that the tension builds strongly to an unpredictable ending.

Some reviewers have found the character development weak, and I admit to never quite believing in the unpleasant Major Burnham whose eyes both men and women seemed to find "pretty", whilst the half-crazed dissident Berti did not quite work for me either. Some of the minor characters, like the officers' wives, seem like caricatures, although may sadly be an accurate portrayal of the prejudice and snobbery rife at the time in their society. Despite this, the main players come across quite strongly. I particularly liked the character of Lewis's son Edmund, an appealing mixture of innocence and guile, as he earnestly attempts to read the codes of the adult world, frequently "getting it wrong". Rachael's shifting emotions in the course of the tale also appear both convincing and moving.

Others have spotted the odd anachronism, or grating, even misued word, and I was a little disappointed to learn that the book was written with a film in mind, so that some descriptions are guidelines for props departments rather than how a character might have perceived a situation. Yet all these are minor quibbles over a page turner which brings alive a neglected aspect of World War 2.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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