Title: A Man Lies Dreaming
Rating: 5 Stars
Yesterday, when I wrote about Deadwood, I said that I probably gave it an artificially low rating because the HBO series Deadwood was one of my favorites and I kept comparing the novel unfavorably to it.
I have the exact opposite problem with A Man Lies Dreaming. This is one of those books that I just picked up at on a whim from the local book store. The cover was attractive and the blurb on the back seemed interesting, but I’d never heard of either the novel or the author, Lavie Tidhar. So, I had absolutely zero expectations going into it.
Well, it certainly blew past zero.
The basic story is a private detective in London in the late 1930’s named Wolf. It starts off like every hard boiled crime noir fiction starts. A beautiful siren with a problem and trouble on her mind enters a run down office of a nearly bankrupt, hungry for work, hungry for women, world weary PI (or dick, or shamus, or gumshoe). The case seems fishy, but Wolf takes it on.
As is usual in crime noir, nothing goes right for Wolf. The coppers have it in for him, rich men try to buy him off, their thugs knock him unconscious, and the dead bodies start to pile up. He in turn is a vicious man not averse to violence for his own ends.
It’s a pretty fine crime noir on its face.
You start to realize that this isn’t just any typical 1930’s London. Nazism has failed in Germany. The communists are in power there and have aligned with the Soviet Union. A huge influx of German immigrants have flooded into England. This has resulted in a dramatic surge in popularity for Oswald Mosley, a British Fascist who wants to throw out the German immigrants.
Wolf himself is a German immigrant. In fact (and this isn’t particularly disguised, so doesn’t really count as a spoiler), Wolf is Adolf Hitler. He had been thrown into a concentration camp as a result of the Communist takeover of Germany, but has managed to escape and is now living in London in obscurity.
Every couple of pages, the plot switches to Shomer, who is a Jewish prisoner barely surviving in a Nazi concentration camp. In his previous life, Shomer was a pulp fiction novelist. As he’s working, to keep his sanity, he is imagining an alternate reality in which Hitler does not rise to power but actually lives the life of a concentration camp prisoner himself before living a life of depravity, poverty, and obscurity.
So, the main plot of the novel is actually a novel within a novel that is the dream of another character in the novel.
For those of you keeping score at home, I believe that this makes this novel the very rarely executed hard boiled crime noir post modern WWII alternate history story in a story dreamed in a concentration camp.
What’s odd is that just a couple of months ago, I read a novel called Clinch, which was a crime noir (set in Sweden) in 1932. This work is the first of a series, possibly dealing with Sweden’s flirtations with fascism. Is this some kind of a trend?
If so, then it does make sense. The height of crime noir was probably in the 1930’s (think Chandler and Hammett), which coincided with the rise of fascism. Also, in crime noir, usually the down on his luck detective is having to fight some vague but menacing authoritarian power (think Chinatown), and what could be more menacing than fascists?
Be that as it may, I’ve read a lot of books. Most times, when you read a book, you can kind of see the overarching narrative arc of the work. I have to admit that I always give bonus points for stories such as this that surprises me. On top of that, I have a weakness for crime noir. I enjoy alternate histories. I went through a period of reading a lot about WWII.
Basically, I think that this novel was written specifically just for me.
And I appreciate it.