I read this novel during these days because of silly reasons: I wanted to challenge myself to get one more book read in January. So I purposely selected a shorter, speedy novel. Suffice it to say, I did not have any high expectations of the novel and perhaps that is the best way to read all novels. The Bormann Testament by Jack Higgins (1929 – 2022) was originally published in 1962 as The Testament of Caspar Schultz. The Bormann Testament is the retitled version republished in 2006. Higgins has a brief note at the start of the book that explains this. Allegedly, in the early 60s, it was not a legally/politically smart thing to allude to Martin Bormann (1900 – 1945), but this 2006 version reasserted the desired title and “a bit more” content. This is also one of Higgins’ earlier novels, maybe his sixth overall, I think.
As I confessed, I grabbed this book from my to-be-read abyss solely because I wanted a fast reading shorter novel to make myself feel impressed with myself for reading six fiction novels this January. The plot has a hint of literary/publishing to it that I enjoyed. Overall, it is a simple plot, not something from the hands of Brandon Sanderson or George R. R. Martin. Information of a document has surfaced, it has incriminating information in it, and the seller is trying to find a buyer – obviously without attracting the attentions of those it incriminates. Insert our main character, Paul Chevasse, and the book leaps into action.
Happily turning the pages at the pace I was hoping for, I was relieved that I was reading a very spare, maybe too much so, story. After having finished Reliquary, I have been considering how many novels there are that just are too bulky for their own good. Not every story needs the grueling amount of detail or backstory that some authors insist on having. As I say that, though, I think from readers nowadays there is a large amount noise about “immersive” stories. Many readers seem to really enjoy the detail and piece-by-piece builds of every element in the story. Do not get me wrong, sometimes this sort of book is wonderful to read, as well. However, I do strongly believe that there is plenty of room for a very spare writing without very much description. It works particularly well in the spy/thriller drama, I think.
I know there are readers who will complain that the characters and plotting in this novel are incomplete, paper-thin, or silly. They will complain about tropes and ridiculous scenes. Overall, I think most readers will say this novel has a somewhat superficial style to it. It does, they are correct, but that is not a bad thing. In fact it is because some of the scenes are so “expected” that the novel is delightful. For example, there is an amusing scene in chapter eight with Gisele that is light-hearted and contrived, but maybe do not take it so seriously and enjoy the fun of it!
There is gunplay and trains and cigars and Dobermanns and manuscripts and none of it has to have a 200-page backstory. It is what it is – stop getting so morose over not knowing the main character’s shoe size, his childhood pet, or all his motives and feelings about everything. I did not take an immediate shine to Paul Chevasse. I did not dislike him, but I wanted to see how it was all going to go. After all, this novel was just going to be a tally mark for me. Lo and behold, by the end of the novel, I actually like the chap well enough and without having to have all the unnecessary backstory. Now, that being said, there is one point that I want to complain about. So, allegedly, Chevasse was originally a professor of languages – was approached by the Agency and became Special Agent. My only nitpick with this is that professors do not often turn easily into physically-capable weapon-masters. The story makes it seem like this progression from teacher to spy-agent is just such a natural and simple thing. Maybe we will get more info about this in the other books in the series (I think there are six total).
Lest readers think that Higgins is a daft pulp author, let me share that there is a neat little element that he includes in this story that provides a rather quite melancholic sort of feeling to it that lingered with me after I finished the book. There is a character that quotes Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593). The line comes from The Jew of Malta – and boy, Higgins plays this line nicely in that last third of the book. There are other small nuances in the book that somehow keep this novel just slightly more than some shoot ’em up pulp. Do not get me wrong, this is not great literature, but I am really glad I read it – and not just because of the speediness of reading it. I’m halfway to swearing off of all books except fast-paced, pulpy, action-adventure novels for the rest of the year because I am having more fun reading them than I expect.
It surprises me that I enjoyed this so much and was so affected by it. I really enjoyed the Anna storyline. I actually came to like the characters more than I would have thought possible in such a spare and “tropey” novel. It was a nice spot of interesting fun for a speedy read. This is good for readers who need a fast novel without a lot of word count.