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Overly Contrived Sequel
on 24 January 2005
This sequel to Fesperman's excellent award-winning debut (Lie in the Dark) picks up Vlado Petric's story five years later, in 1998. We find the former Bosnian policeman in Berlin, where he was reunited with his wife and daughter, and has been working menial construction jobs. In a somewhat heavy-handed prologue, Vlado and his Polish construction mate unearth an old Nazi bunker while digging a trench. This serves notice to the reader that even as the foundation for a new Europe is being laid, the ugly past is always lurking just below the surface. Get it? In a more affecting early part of the story, we learn that Vlado's reuniting with his family (following the events of Lie in the Dark) was not quite the stuff of fairy tales. This ties in to a subplot in which he becomes entangled with a pair of fellow countrymen who swear to have seen a war criminal nearby. This leads him down an unlikely and unnecessary subplot, which links all too conveniently to the main story.
Things really gets going when an American lawyer working for the International War Crimes Tribunal offers Vlado a job as part of a team trying to capture a Croatian war criminal from World War II. This is all part of another unlikely and overly complicated scheme to swap him to the French if they arrest a Serbian war criminal from the more recent fighting. The carrot of a visit home and a possible job are dangled in front of him, and of course he accepts. The trip to Bosnia becomes wildly complicated and dangerous, unfortunately, the pitfalls are obvious to the reader well ahead of Vlado and his handler. The story continues in Rome, and veers into even more wild territory, as dark secrets from WWII hold the power to do significant harm even now. Fesperman's plotting draws upon various real events (the theft of gold from the Croatian treasury, the involvement of Catholic priests in helping war criminals gain new identities, etc.), but it rarely feels plausible.
Fesperman's strength lies in depicting modern Bosnia and the effects of the war upon its people. The book is at its most effective when focusing on Vlado and his family's life as refugees in Germany, or in showing Sarajevo recovering from the war. Unfortunately, most of the book deals in the past and ends up feeling like a Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum thriller. It's not bad, just not as distinctive as Lie in the Dark, but I'll definitely read the next installment in Vlado's story.