The Rhinemann Exchange

August 29th, 2007

Hot on the heels of the Prometheus Deception comes another Ludlum novel. This one has a rather different ring to it, it's also an espionage plot, but it's set in World War 2. I have to say I did not find it equally gripping at first, rather than the single person focus of the previous book, this one involves a lot of people and their fates. Only later does Ludlum narrow the view a bit and center on the viewpoint of the agent David Spaulding. He needs to develop and introduce Spaulding first, which he does by sending him to Spain on covert missions for four years during the war. This feels like a bit of a hack, but then again it also builds a very nice reference point - the man from Lisbon, which says a lot without speaking a lot.

The whole affair, as usual, is very complex. And credit to Ludlum for keeping a lid on it while he lets small pieces come to light a little at a time. This very precise unveiling seems a bit too mechanical at times, it moves at a very steady pace without any bursts.

Ludlum's premise is carefully crafted, and although he tells you from the beginning what it's all about, the big picture, you can appreciate the nuance and complexity of his story as he fills it in with details. In fact, rather than writing a developing story, it is more in the vein of setting things up so they will unfold in a very specific way. Like an elaborate domino effect. The basic idea is that in an ongoing world war, the two powers Nazi Germany and the not-yet-committed United States have both found themselves cornered on technical limitations. Interestingly, each has what the other needs. An obscene arrangement is drawn up so that basically each party gets what it needs and they can fight it out.

This deal is brokered by the magnate Rhinemann in Buenos Aires, a German Jew expelled from the Reich, who ponders the prospects of his very significant post war influence. His fortune is sure to be sought to rebuild Germany after the war. Meanwhile, both sides have conceived this plot with the maximum of secrecy, and very few people actually know about it. Spaulding, the agent sent to implement the plan, and then eliminate Rhinemann to remove the evidence, knows only half the story.

There is one thing a bit odd about Ludlum's stories. Firstly, he tends to always pick one central character, whose interests are made compelling to the reader, and also makes the direction of the story well defined. This does feel simplistic at times, but it's a fair choice. However, the character's superhero-like ability to survive is a bit exaggerated, and the story always ends in a way that allows him to accomplish most or all of his objectives, without really losing anything for it. Well, of course, he's always injured badly, but the way in which Ludlum always expedites his recovery, you can't really doubt that he will fully recover whatever the circumstance may be.

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