A secret that must never be revealed. . . .
An evil never meant to be repeated. . . .
Seventy years ago, the greatest crime against humanity was committed.
Today it’s only a heartbeat away from happening again.
In Paraguay, an elderly businessman kills himself. In Berlin, a neo-Nazi is gunned down in the street.
Trying to connect the murders, intelligence agent Joe Volkmann, aided by a beautiful young German journalist, travels to Paraguay and discovers a clue—the charred remains of an old black-and-white photograph in a remote jungle house. A photograph that holds the first key to an extraordinary secret—and a plot to create the Fourth Reich.
Volkmann soon uncovers that a string of bizarre killings around the world are all linked by a single purpose. And he also discovers that the journalist he trusted, Erica Kranz, is somehow linked to the plan.
Haunted by the ghosts of the past, and desperate to unearth an extraordinary secret, Volkmann and Kranz are plunged into a dangerous world of terrorism, fanaticism, and deception as they stare true evil in the face.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When the doctors at the San Ignatio Private Hospital told Nicolas Tsarkin he was going to die, the old man nodded sullenly, waited until the men had left, then dressed without speaking another word and drove his Mercedes to the corner of the Calle Palma three blocks away.
He parked the car and walked back the last block to the small commercial bank on the corner, pushed through the revolving doors, and told the manager he wanted to see his safe-deposit box.
The manager promptly ordered a senior clerk to go down to the vault with the old man: Señor Tsarkin, after all, was a valued customer.
“Then tell him to go. I want to be left alone,” Tsarkin said in his usual abrupt manner.
“Certainly, Señor Tsarkin. Thank you, Señor Tsarkin.” A final, polite bow from the manager, and then, “Buenos días, Señor Tsarkin.”
The blue-suited manager irritated Tsarkin, as usual, but especially so this morning, with his bowing and scraping and ingratiating, gold-toothed smile.
Buenos días. Good morning. What was good about it?
He had just been told he had less than forty-eight hours to live, and right now the pain in his stomach was eating into him like a fire, almost unendurable. He felt weak, terribly weak, despite the drugs to quell the pain. What had he to smile about? What was good about this morning?
The last morning of his life, because he knew now what he had to do.
And yet the truth was, Tsarkin felt a strange kind of relief: the lie would soon be over.
He caught a reflection of himself in the cold, stainless-steel walls as the clerk led him down into the cool of the vault. Tsarkin was ninety-one and, until six months ago, had looked ten years younger. He had been fit then, ate the proper foods, never smoked, and rarely drank. Everyone said he would make the century.
They were wrong.
His reflection in the stainless-steel wall showed him as he was: emaciated, looking like a corpse already, the bleeding in his stomach so bad that he could almost feel the life draining from him. But he had important things to do, no matter what the pain, no matter what the doctors had told him. And once those things were done he could sleep peacefully, forever.
Unless there really was a God and a hereafter, in which case he would pay for his sins. But Tsarkin doubted it. No just God would have let him live so long and so full and so rich a life after all he had done. No, you just died. It was that simple. The flesh became dust, and you were gone forever: no pain, no heaven, no hell. Just nothingness.
The clerk unlocked the metal gates and led him through into the basement chamber. It was a small room, six yards by six, silent, a cold marble floor. The clerk examined the key number he held in his hand, ran a finger along the shining steel boxes along one of the walls, found Tsarkin’s deposit box, removed and unlocked the box, and placed it on the polished wooden table in the center of the room. He handed over the key, withdrew, and then Tsarkin was alone.
The vault had the coldness and the silence of a morgue and Tsarkin shivered involuntarily. Soon I’ll be there, he told himself. Soon there will be no pain. As he went to sit at the table he dragged the small metal box toward him, inserted the key, and opened the lid, before removing the contents and spreading the papers out onto the polished table.
All there. The deeds to his lands, the keys to his past. He reconsidered a moment, putting off what had to be done, thought about enjoying one last orgy of indulgence, but truly there was nothing more he wanted to do. The pain made everything unbearable, and, besides, he had enjoyed everything life had to offer.
He gathered up the contents of the deposit box in his hands, sorted them neatly into an orderly pile, and placed them in one of the old, large envelopes that contained some of the papers. It made a neat, hefty bundle. Then he pressed the buzzer for the clerk to return.
• • •
The house stood on the Calle Iguazu, on the outskirts of the city. White and large and surrounded by high walls, barely visible from the road. The classiest part of Asunción, and Tsarkin had been able to afford it. He opened the wrought-iron gates with the remote control, drove up the curved sweep of the asphalt road, and parked the Mercedes on the gravel driveway in front of the house.
He grunted when the mestizo butler opened the front door to greet him. He went straight through to his wood-paneled study and locked the door. It was warm in the study. Tsarkin loosened the two top buttons of his shirt as he looked out onto the lush, manicured gardens, the pepper and palm trees beyond the window. He owned a lot of property in Asunción, and three farms in the Chaco hinterland, but this place had always been his favorite.
He sat down at the polished apple-wood desk and emptied the contents of the envelope onto the gleaming surface and began to sift through the pile.
He looked at the passport first. Nicolas Tsarkin. Fine. Except he wasn’t Nicolas Tsarkin. His real name—he’d almost forgotten it—and then when it came to his lips, so unreal, he had to smile to himself, weakly. So long to live a lie. He put the passport aside.
Once he was wanted in half a dozen countries. Once he did terrible things in that old, forgotten name. Inflicted terrible deaths and terrible pain. And yet the truth was, when you boiled it down, he couldn’t stand pain himself. He chided himself: it was no time for thought. Do it.
He sorted through the papers. Old, tired papers, tattered records of his past. He read through them once again. As in his nightmares, it all came back to him: the cold terror on the faces of his victims, the blood, the butchery. Yet he felt no remorse.
He would have done it all again. No question.
He put the papers aside, removed several blank sheets of paper and an envelope from the desk drawer, and began writing.
When he finished fifteen minutes later, he sealed the envelope and tucked it into his pocket before crossing to the fireplace, clutching the papers from the safe-deposit box in his hands, and making a neat pile of them in the grate.
He took a match from the box he kept on the mantelpiece, struck it, and set the flame to the papers. Then he crossed to the wall safe hidden behind the framed oil painting, swung back the painting on its hinges, and thumbed through the combination.
He selected the papers he wanted, making sure there was nothing left that might incriminate anyone, and crossed back to the fireplace. Watching as the flames licked the papers, he added more to the blaze, until there was nothing, only black ashes. He checked through the ashes with the poker.
The flames had done their work. Nothing remained.
When he had done all he had had to do, he left the house. He drove to the post office four blocks away, bought the stamp he needed, and posted the letter, express. He drove straight back to the house, parked the car in the garage this time, and went into his study again.
Do it quickly, the voice in his head told him.
No time for thought. No time for thinking about the pain to come. From the top drawer of the polished apple-wood desk he took out the long-barreled Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, checked that the chambers were loaded, then placed the barrel of the weapon in the roof of his mouth, letting his lips form a perfect O around the cold metal.
He squeezed the trigger.
It was all over in less than a second, and Tsarkin never heard the explosion that flung him up and backward, shattering half his brain, as the bullet ripped out through the back of his skull, sending shards of bone and bloodied brain matter flying into the air behind him, spattering the white walls gray and red as the blunted lead of the bullet embedded itself in the wood below the ceiling.
Less than a second of primary pain.
All in all, Nicolas Tsarkin could not have wished for a more quick and painless death.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Brandenburg includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Glenn Meade. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this riveting international spy thriller, master storyteller Glenn Meade (Snow Wolf ) weaves a complex, fast-paced story. British intelligence agent Joe Volkmann crisscrosses the globe to solve what he thinks is a drug-smuggling operation but soon realizes that he is up against something much more sinister—a plot to establish the Fourth Reich of the Nazi Party, with tentacles reaching from Paraguay to Berlin. Suddenly dark secrets from the past begin spilling out into the present, bringing Europe to the very brink of disaster. Meade shows with chilling clarity how conditions in Nazi Germany bear an eerie resemblance to events unfolding in our world today.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the significance of the title, Brandenburg. To what does it refer?
2. What drives Joe Volkmann in his relentless pursuit of justice?
3. What accounts for Volkmann’s initial distrust of Erica Kranz? Is that distrust justified? Why or why not?
4. Briefly discuss what you know about the Nazi period in Germany. Volkmann says to Erica, “[N]o people became as brutal as they did during the Nazi period. I simply can’t understand it—how your countrymen could let it all happen.” Do you see how this might have been possible? Why or why not?
5. As university students, both Lubsch and Winter claimed to be concerned about “the future of Germany” (p. 211), yet they stood on opposite sides politically. Discuss how political opposites can have a common goal, yet propose radically different solutions to reach that goal. Do you see a similar situation happening in the world today?
6. The elderly former Nazi, Wilhelm Busch, describes a depressed Germany by saying, “Every day there were riots and protests and armed anarchists roaming the streets. No one could find work. . . . And then came the Nazis. They promised prosperity, work, hope. To make Germany great again. Drowning men will grasp at straws, and we Germans then were drowning” (p. 334). In what ways do today’s headlines echo some of the problems plaguing Germany during the rise of Hitler? Can you think of any groups today who feel strongly that they have the perfect solution to the world’s problems?
7. What is the significance of the “pedigree” that all the murder victims had in common? (p. 351) For what reason were they killed?
8. What is the ultimate goal of the neo-Nazi group? Do you think it’s true that the German people will rally behind them, as Grinzing claims? (p. 431) Why or why not?
9. It has been said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Review the description of the Nazis offered by Grinzing (p. 433). Have you ever heard the Nazis described in this way? In their own estimation, did the Nazis intend to destroy Germany or improve it?
10. What sorts of unrest do you see happening around the world today? Do you think that a destabilized country leaves itself open to a takeover by anyone who claims to have the answers? Discuss.
11. What was the purpose of assigning Kefir Ozalid to assassinate Chancellor Dollman? What effect did the neo-Nazis hope this information would have on the German people when it became public?
12. Do you hear today of immigrants being blamed for society’s ills? If so, what do you think the solution might be?
13. While planning their approach to Kaalberg, Volkmann tells Lubsch, “If we make it up the mountain, Schmeltz is mine” (p. 441). Why does he say this? Discuss the role of revenge and whether you think it will truly satisfy Volkmann.
14. Toward the end of the book, speaking of the neo-Nazis, the man called Raul says, “You know the Western democracies can’t sustain their problems. Immigration. Unemployment. Recession. They’re already crumbling. It’s only a question of time before we try again” (p. 478). Do you think he is correct? Why or why not?
15. What did you think of the ending of Brandenburg? Did it surprise you?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. If you know an older person who remembers World War II and the Nazi era, invite him or her to join your discussion.
2. For an overview, watch an introductory documentary about Nazism, such as Episode 1 of The Nazis: A Warning from History, available online at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-nazis-awarning-from-history/.
3. Discuss some actions that ordinary people can take to ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.
A Conversation with Glenn Meade
1. How were you inspired to write Brandenburg?
Some years ago I was in Garmisch in southern Germany writing a newspaper article for the Times—about the mysterious disappearance of huge amounts of Nazi gold bullion at the end of World War II—when I met an elderly former SS man who told me an incredible wartime story.
As a young recruit he was stationed in Vienna in 1941. One night he and his comrades were given secret orders to proceed to Vienna’s old Central Cemetery, where they were to completely destroy a section of the graveyard—raze it to the ground with bulldozers and earth-moving equipment, obliterating all trace of the graves in that part of the cemetery.
The “secret” behind the reason for the SS destruction inspired me to write the book.
The bulldozed area of the graveyard actually held the grave of a woman named Geli Raubal—Adolf Hitler’s niece, with whom he had a close relationship—and who died in mysterious circumstances just before Hitler came to power. (Rumors circulated at the time that Geli Raubal was actually murdered, on Hitler’s orders, because she was pregnant with his child, or had already given birth.)
This “secret”—that Hitler may have had his niece killed in order to hide the fact that she had fathered a child by him, a child who survived and might be still living today—formed the central “mystery” that must be uncovered in Brandenburg. It also has a chilling significance in today’s world, in which Europe is once again being ravaged by neo-Nazi groups that are looking for a leader to rally around. I
t’s historical fact that Hitler personally gave the order in 1941 for the grave in Vienna to be destroyed—some believed it was to frustrate any subsequent autopsy that might reveal that his niece was pregnant or had given birth. To this day, the ravaged section of the cemetery still exists—it remains a barren patch of land, the gravestones long obliterated.
2. Many of the social conditions of pre–World War II Germany—high unemployment, a weak economy, the “immigrant question”—sound disturbingly familiar. What do you think is the likelihood that another Nazi-like entity could rise to power in the twenty-first century?
History often has a habit of repeating itself, so never say never. When I met with Germany’s national intelligence organization during the research for the book, several officers I spoke with privately expressed their grave concerns about the neo-Nazi groups that are still on the rise in Germany. They continue to simmer dangerously in the background since their resurgence in Europe in the 1960s and ’70s. And it’s not just a European phenomenon—Russia, Eastern Europe, the U.S. all have the problem. I believe it will worsen worldwide with these groups attracting even more followers among the disaffected as economic conditions and unemployment deteriorate.
3. Did you have a favorite character or scene in Brandenburg? If so, which one, and why?
That’s a difficult one. Like a good parent, I love all my “children” equally. But some characters or scenes will always stand out in the author’s mind. I may have a slight fondness for Joe Volkmann and Rudi Hernandez, but for different reasons. Volkmann because he’s complex, and Hernandez because he’s not.
Scene? The one where Volkmann and Erica learn the true identity of the mystery woman in the photograph taken in the 1930s. It’s a real shock, an enigma revealed, and all the more enjoyable to write because it’s based on a real character and a true revelation.
4. How long did it take you to research and write Brandenburg?
About a year, which involved several trips to Germany, where I met a bunch of shaven-headed neo-Nazis in Berlin—one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had because of the absolute ease with which they boasted about their acts of violence, their hatred of immigrants, and their denial of the Holocaust. It ranks up there with meeting hard-line Al Qaeda supporters in Istanbul, while researching another book of mine, Resurrection Day. They were both chilling, sobering experiences, and served to remind me of the potential danger we all face from such fanatics.
5. What is your research process? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I read as much as I can on the subject and visit any important locations that will feature in the book. Research is hard work but fun—you’re constantly discovering facts and details that may be of use to you in the writing. I usually take along a video camera and record images of the locations I will use in the book. They help jog my memory when I’m writing.
I’ve got most of the research done before I start the writing process—but in truth, you’re often still discovering interesting morsels of research until right before you hand in the manuscript to your editor.
6. Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Did you uncover any startling facts or glimpses of history that were new to you?
Discovering the central “secret” behind Brandenburg was a big revelation to me. I hadn’t known a lot about Hitler’s private life, or about Geli Raubal.
It was a shock that was all the more disturbing when I visited Vienna’s old Central Cemetery and saw the ruined plot where Hitler’s niece was buried.
7. How have readers responded to Brandenburg?
Pretty well; it certainly generated a lot of mail. One of the surprising things about it is that my German publisher declined to publish the book at first, fearing German sensitivity about the subject matter. Only when they had successfully published several other of my books did they decide to take the risk. It became a bestseller in Germany.
8. If readers take away one primary message from Brandenburg, what do you hope it will be?
That old cliché, learn from the past. The Nazi period was truly horrific—probably the most evil and brutal episode in human history. The same conditions that caused fascism’s rise could well happen again; neo-Nazism has been on a definite rise in the last decades. I hope it helps even in a small way to remind readers that we must never allow that part of our history to repeat itself.
9. Brandenburg remains suspenseful all the way to the end. Is there a sequel?
History also has a habit of repeating itself where authors are concerned. So you never know.
10. What advice would you offer to a novice fiction writer?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Don’t just read a book or see a movie once—do it twice or more. The first time should be for pleasure; the second and subsequent times for craft. Study how writers achieve the effect they want to achieve on the page, and try to do the same kind of thing in your own writing, if not better.
11. Many of your books deal with historical themes. What attracts you to writing about historical events?
An interest in history since I was a kid—I was always a daydreamer, constantly taking myself off to other worlds, where I imagined myself existing. I guess it’s still a trait, and I still daydream, except now I’m lucky enough to make a living from it.
12. What book are you working on now?
The question no writer likes to answer . . . in case a wicked spell is cast upon his work. Let’s just say it borrows elements from my other works, and there’s certainly a historical element, but it’s more contemporary, and set in the U.S. and Europe.