THE IRON HEART - Marshall Browne

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Berlin in 1939 is not an easy place to be if you're not a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Being the Chief Auditor in the Reichsbank, right at the centre of the Party's finances would always be a tricky assignment, but if you're only there to try to stop the advance of the Third Reich it's an even more difficult place to be.

Franz Schmidt isn't a typical hero, he's quiet, a small self-contained man, who has drawn on incredible internal resolve in his opposition to the direction that Germany is being driven in.  He has divorced his wife (a matter of self-preservation) and joined the party, and he is prepared to put himself at great personal peril in the service of the high-ranking and powerful von Streck - someone who is working from within against the Fuehrer.

In the bank there are many people who are passionate supporters of the Fuehrer and the Reich and Schmidt soon finds himself up against the formidable Fräulein Brandt, head of the Precious Metals Department, lover of a high-ranking Gestapo officer, a fanatical Nazi.  He also meets and finds himself attracted to Fräulein Anna von Schnelling, a secretary within the bank who will ultimately put him at greater risk than his own mission. 

THE IRON HEART is a slow burner story, the tension building as Schmidt gets himself deeper and deeper into his mission - to find the financial blueprints for the Reich.  Alongside his attempts to find and photograph the plans, Berlin is in turmoil.  The Gestapo are ruthless in their pursuit of Jewish citizens and anybody who is working against the Party and their methods are ruthless.  People opposed to the party - trying to save individuals and get them out of the country - take extreme risks on a daily basis.  A constant game of cat and mouse is played out, and Schmidt finds himself involved in events that could not only stop his mission, but result in his own arrest.  Huge sacrifices are made to ensure he can remain safe.

Whilst there are a number of murders and deaths, THE IRON HEART isn't necessarily a mystery as the perpetrator of the killings is spelt out.  The book is definitely more of a thriller in style, but at the same time Browne has created a very claustrophobic, dark, dangerous place in which events move swiftly, but the actions themselves are sometimes slow and very deliberate.  It's a discomforting book to read, providing a very realistic feel of what it must be like to be under pressure, under threat, underwhelmed by your countries leaders, living a life that has been thrown into absolute turmoil by events outside your control, and being a reluctant, understated but very capable, non-typical hero.

Year of Publication

Franz Schmidt arrives in Berlin in January 1939 to take up the position of Chief Auditor at the Reichsbank, the financial heart of the Third Reich. He has been positioned there by the enigmatic von Streck, a high-ranking member of the Nazi party but one who has a different agenda to that of the Fuehrer. Schmidt realises he must tread very carefully to avoid the zealous and passionate Fraulein Brandt, who is determined to destroy anyone unfaithful to the Party. After the murder of a co-worker, Schmidt is driven, despite von Streck's orders to keep a low profile, to help the dead man's assistant, who is now in grave danger herself.

As the Gestapo's reach extends throughout the freezing city, Schmidt's brief becomes clear. He must steal a copy of the Reich's financing blueprint in an attempt to prevent the country's march to war. Iron Heart is the second novel featuring Franz Schmidt and confirms Marshall Browne's reputation as one of Australia's foremost crime writers.

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