Sam Bourne is the literary pseudonym of Jonathan Freedland, an award-winning British journalist and broadcaster. His first Bourne novel, THE RIGHTEOUS MEN, is an international bestseller, and he has continued releasing outstanding historical fiction works under the Bourne name ever since. His latest effort, THE FINAL RECKONING, once again has its roots in Judaism. With Freedland being an expert on this topic --- having covered the Middle East struggle for over two decades and chairing a three-day dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians --- there is no more credible author than himself to deliver a voice to the Jewish people through his speculative and enthralling historical fiction.
"Using plot twists that are reminiscent of the great British author Robert Goddard, THE FINAL RECKONING is fast-paced historical fiction at its finest."
The novel opens with a tragedy. 77-year-old Gerald Merton is wearing a bulky overcoat and approaching the United Nations main building. Security had received a tip earlier about an alleged terrorist attack, and a suspect was described with the same features as Merton. Felipe Tavares, a security guard who only sees Merton from behind, shouts a warning and then fires at the suspect, killing him instantly. When they discover that this was no terrorist but an elderly British citizen on a seemingly innocent visit, the UN fears an international incident. Henning Munchau, the primary legal counsel for the UN who is responsible for safety and security, hires an outsider to help smooth things over before the bad press can spread. Being able to brush this under the table is especially vital as the UN is preparing for a large meeting of all their international representatives the very same week.
The person Munchau reaches out to is attorney Tom Byrne, whose star has fallen far in recent years and now offers his services to the highest bidder. He owes Munchau a favor and agrees to become the mouthpiece for the UN with Merton’s family. Byrne flies to the UK to meet with Merton’s sole surviving relative, his daughter Rebecca. Rebecca is at her father’s home and is unwilling to accept a token apology from the UN, demanding a face-to-face meeting with the Secretary General himself.
While there, Byrne picks up a notebook he mistakes for his own. He realizes the error, but is tempted to read it before returning it to Rebecca. Upon opening it, he is taken back to the early days of World War II in Eastern Europe. The notebook belonged to Rebecca’s father, then known as Gershon Matzkin, and contains explicit details of his parents’ murder/suicide and the apprehension of him and his sisters by the Nazis from their home in Kovno, Poland. As with many tragic stories from WWII, Matzkin is the sole survivor of the massacre that befalls all the Jewish residents of Kovno, and his sisters are slain.
As Byrne researches more into the background of Matzkin, he finds a young man with Aryan features who is able to escape from enslavement in a concentration camp and becomes part of a fledgling Jewish resistance group that goes by the acronym DIN --- Dam Israel Nokeam --- literally translated as “The blood of Israel will take vengeance.” DIN operated throughout Eastern Europe during WWII and was instrumental in battling the Nazis and later received assistance from both US and Soviet forces. Once WWII was over, DIN dedicated themselves to hunting down the thousands of criminals left over from the war who did not face judgment at the Nuremberg trials for war atrocities and crimes against humanity with their attempt to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. Byrne, along with Rebecca, follows the evidence and hidden research of DIN and Merton’s involvement. It turns out that there was a much larger plan to eliminate millions of Germans via contamination of the water systems and a secondary plan that would poison their bread. Byrne begins to realize that maybe Merton’s visit to the UN was not so innocent after all. The big question to be answered is: Who was he after?
On the US front, Detective First Grade Jay Sherrill is following up on the criminal investigation from a local standpoint and finds resistance at every turn. Eventually, the NYPD asks him to halt his investigation as the shooting occurred on UN soil and is technically outside of NYPD jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Byrne and Rebecca are sent on a wild goose chase throughout Europe to try to piece together the master revenge plans of DIN and the role Matzkin may have played in them. There appears to be groups that will do anything to stop them from revealing this information and a mysterious faction that is apparently willing to assist them in their quest. As things come to a head and the subject of Matzkin’s final act of revenge or reckoning is identified, Byrne realizes he is caught in the middle of an international battle that is far more than he originally signed on for.
Using plot twists that are reminiscent of the great British author Robert Goddard, THE FINAL RECKONING is fast-paced historical fiction at its finest. Bourne deftly uses his breadth of knowledge on the historical subtexts that form the foundation for this work of “fiction” and has once again created a winner of a novel that will thrill fans of the genre as well as history aficionados who will appreciate the real events and people that provided its inspiration. Bourne specifically references FORGED IN FURY, a 1971 book written by Michael Elkins, a former BBC correspondent to Jerusalem. It provides the fullest account of the actual DIN and their post-war activities that inspired Sam Bourne’s extraordinary thriller.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 1, 2010