Voices of the Dead, the latest offering from novelist Peter Leonard follows the life of Holocaust survivor Harry Levin at his most vulnerable since he fled Nazi death camp Dachau as a child. The novel, with its staccato sentences and matter of fact recollection of action recalls noir machismo and steel grey skies. Harry Levin’s day is documented from the manner in which he prepares his coffee to the hours he spends searching the woods outside of Munich for the mass grave where his parents are buried.
From a literary perspective I am reluctant to declare Voices of the Dead a masterpiece, yet it is thoughtful and intelligent, clever enough that the characters are self-deprecating. The language is bare bones, the grammar straightforward and anything but experimental, a throwback to the journalistic stylings of Ernest Hemingway. Within the lines the story is told and it is not a romantic one. The linguistic safety net exemplifies the barriers erected around Holocaust survivor Harry Levin. A foray into one man’s life but the subject matter weighs heavily. The focus is experience, Harry Levin is consistently portrayed as a man of action. In any other context, however, this would be boring. Levin gets up to a lot over the course of the novel, as does the vile antagonist, Nazi Ernst Hess.
The stripped-down language is a barrier against the physical pain one feels when reading about Nazi atrocities. I often found myself wondering but what is Harry thinking, frustrated by the unending descriptions of some of his innocuous movements through Munich and Detroit. This is the thing, there is no romance when Nazis are involved. There is only pain and in the case of Harry Levin, that pain has spurred him to action.
There is an atrocious amount of death in the novel. Nazi Ernst Hess is relentless in his quest to kill Jews and he meets a fitting end. Justice, though slow to move does so wisely in this book and in the end there is not one loose end. It is satisfying in its own neat way, but in all fairness it would be a cop-out with any other subject matter.
Having read Voices of the Dead, I can say most assuredly that I would like to read more of Peter Leonard’s work but if any of it is anything like Voices, it will be emotionally breaking. I hesitate to love this book, if only because I am unsettled by how well Peter Leonard has created these characters.