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The thriller-novel, “The ODESSA file”, was first published in 1972, and has been reprinted many a time as the book has been sold in millions of copies world wide. The author of the book, Frederick Forsyth, has a background as a reporter, something which is reflected both in the story and the way of writing. Forsyth is famous for doing his “homework”. Often he'll spend two or three years of doing research about a plot before locking himself away, writing almost faster than his fingers can keep track on his typewriter and delivering the finished manuscript a few months later.
Forsyth was born in Ashford, England in 1938. He has studied in England and Spain. He speaks fluent English, French, German and Spanish, and has travelled widely in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These experiences can be seen in the authenticity of his describing in his books.
He has worked as a reporter in newspapers, radio and television. But before he became a reporter he actually worked as a pilot in the Royal Air Force for two years. In 1968 he left his job at the BBC and became a freelance reporter.
In 1970, after 9 years of reporting, he decided to write a book. The book he wrote, “The day of the Jackal”, became an instant success, and he continued his success as a writer. Among his most famous works are; “The day of the Jackal”, “The dogs of war”, “The fist of God”, “Avenger”, “Icon” and “The ODESSA file”.
“The ODESSA” file is mainly situated in West Germany, but also Israel, Egypt and Austria are in the picture in this all-including novel. It is in the early 1960’s, shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated, this story takes place.
The main character, Peter Miller, is an almost 30-year-old, successful freelance reporter. He drives an expensive Jaguar and lives in a big flat in the middle of Hamburg with his few years younger girlfriend, Sigi, who is a stripper.
By coincidence Peter comes across the diary of a German Jew, who has committed suicide. After reading the diary he vows to hunt down and bring to trial the ex-SS Captain, Eduard Roschman, later known as the “The Butcher of Riga”. This man was responsible of a lot of the pain and misery the Jew, and other inmates, experienced in a Nazi concentration camp in Riga, during the Second World War. But while doing so he learns about a super-secret, Mafia like, organisation that hides some of the most wanted former SS-members, The ODESSA. In German “ODESSA” stands for “Organisation Der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen”. In English this means “Organisation of Former Members of the SS”.
Peter manages, after some back and forth, and with help from an underground Jewish organisation, to get infiltrated in the ODESSA. This leads to a series of events, which end with an exiting twist when you get to know the real reason for Millers intense hunt after the former Captain.
It turns out that at the end of the war Roschman, in a disagreement shot Peters father, who also was a Captain during World War 2. It was through the Jew’s diary that Peter finally discovered who his father’s killer was. This was a crime which Peter all his life had wanted to revenge. But Roschman manages to slip away at the very end and Peter is forced to go back to live his normal life and not to ever try and find his father’s killer again.
The actual ODESSA file was a map with a series of the former names and the new cover-names and addresses of wanted SS-men. Which Peter Miller manages to get his hands on, and send to the Ministry of Justice in Bonn, but we never get to know what actually is done with this file.
I think the book in its entirety is a very well written thriller-novel. It is very exiting and thrilling, as a thriller-novel should be. But there tended to be too many details in some parts, and that made it somewhat boring and unnecessary complicated at times. The story starts a bit slow, filled with some details which do not play any part in the rest of the story. Honestly, I can’t say I was really inspired to read through the whole book at the beginning. There also are some strange happenings in the book which made me wonder if the author really had thought it all through. But in an odd way, “The Odessa File” captivates you and forces you to continue, with its stirring yet-to-be-answered questions.
Most of the action in the book is gathered at the end, when also the hunt after Roschman comes to an end. It feels like the author had a sudden need of finishing the story, and tells us all the answers in an unexciting way. All the things they are searching for through the whole story are told on the very last pages of the book.
I think the plot in its self is realistic, with good descriptions of characters, their feelings and thoughts, and their surroundings, both geographical and the environment they find them self in. The dialogue between people in the book does get a bit too filled with information and tends to be a bit boring at times, as there are several pages of dialogue where the contents has nothing to do with the rest of the story. There also tends to be some unlikely coincidences at times. Something which one does get a bit tired of after a while.
The end does catch you by surprise, and gives the book some more sense in a way. I mean, at first I was wondering why a wealthy reporter would drop everything he had in his hands and spend all his last savings on a hunt, which seemed to have very small chances of success.
We see almost the whole story through the eyes of Peter Miller, and we therefore sympathise with him. But some in parts of the story we are taken into the ODESSA, and even to politicians and agents in Israel, but then more as a “fly on the wall”, observing and listening.
“The ODESSA file” is an exciting thriller-novel and has a shocking twist in the end when you get to know the real motive behind Miller wanting to find Roschman. In the process, Frederick Forsyth manages to include The Beatles short stint in Hamburg, the background of the brief Arab-Israeli war and last but not the least, Kennedy’s assassination. Forsyth’s factual knowledge is accurate, and his research is deep and minute. "The Odessa File" undoubtedly makes me understand why it has been sold in millions of copies, and it shows us that Frederick Forsyth is as good as an author as a reporter, and I highly recommend this book to all of you who are fond of reading.