The Boys From Brazil opens with a meal hosted by Dr Josef Mengele. During this meal, Mengele gives instructions to six former SS operatives to assassinate 94 men from various countries and backgrounds on specific dates over the next two and a half years. Why these men and why it has to be on or around these dates is not shared; these men are soldiers, expected to follow the instructions without question.
Aging Nazi hunter, Yakov Lieberman, learns about this plot, but his source is killed before he can obtain any concrete evidence. Disbelieving at first, he does a little digging, and uncovers the details of Mengele’s plan, years in the making, to bring the ‘Fourth Reich’ into power.
The Boys From Brazil was inspired by the all too real Dr Josef Mengele, also known as the “Angel of Death”. Mengele was one of those in charge at Auschwitz, and during his time there conducted various experiments in genetics on those incarcerated, with no thought to their well-being. Following the Second World War, Mengele escaped to Latin America, where he later died having never been brought to stand trial for his crimes. Whilst the plot in Levin’s novel is purely fiction (as far as I’m aware), the presence of this real individual, who was still alive at the time of publication in 1976, adds a chilling note of possibility to what may seem like a far-fetched plot.
Lieberman is not your typical hero. Getting on in his years, he has some health problems, and those he speaks to about this plot wonder if he’s losing his grip on reality or succumbing to paranoia at the very least. But his determination to do the right thing, whatever the cost, is extremely endearing – he’s persistent, the proverbial dog with a bone, and he can’t resist the chance to catch the evasive Mengele.
Whilst Lieberman isn’t your typical hero, the fictional Mengele comes across as a Bond-esque type villain. With no good traits at all, he is something of a seedy old man with the connections and the means to do what he wants. He’s cold, dispassionate (about everything except his work) and everything a bad guy should be.
This is the sixth novel of Ira Levin’s that I’ve read, and once again I’ve been blown away. Levin has a skill for writing extremely chilling plot lines, and knows exactly how to build tension throughout a novel. Whilst his plots may seem far-fetched and bordering on the realms of speculative fiction, the reader can’t help but wonder ‘what if’, and it’s this skill that puts Levin firmly on my list of favourite authors.