A Review of Ben Fergusson's THE SPRING OF KASPER MEIR
Ben Fergusson makes a strong
novel debut with THE SPRING OF KASPER MEIER. Set in Berlin, the spring of
1946, we are introduced to Kasper Meier a bitter, broken man scratching out a
living on the streets of occupied Berlin. His aged and ill father lives next
door under a false name - otherwise they would have to share a single room
because of the familial connection - and is completely dependent on his son for
food, medicine, shelter and protection from the rampant crime.
Kasper is an experienced black
market dealer, he knows how to barter and come out on top and this is why a
young woman, Eva, comes to him to seek his help in finding a British flyer who,
she claims, has gotten her friend pregnant - a very common occurrence during
the occupation. Kasper wants nothing to do with her or her problems and she is
forced to blackmail him with the threat of exposing his homosexuality to the
Allies which would result in his being arrested and his father thrown out into
the rubble-strewn streets.
This is a great set up and makes
for compelling reading as we soon learn there is more to Eva's story than meets
the eye. A lot more. Sadly the glacial pace of the novel slows the plot to a
crawl. Fergusson is a good writer, however, and he's done his homework. He
places you in 1946 Berlin: sights, sounds, textures, the desperation, the
starvation, and threats from every direction. It's here that the novel shines
with a plethora of minute details which I know from personal experience are
only uncovered by going deep into the history of the time. Unfortunately, in
this case, the plot suffers as a result and we're more than 100 pages into the
book before Kasper begins what passes for his investigation. There are
flashbacks, musings and misery and the reader takes away from the book a strong
feeling of being there during that awful time. But moving from page to page, I
couldn't help but feel the impetus of the story weakening.
Reading THE SPRING OF KASPER MEIER,
I got the sense the book was suffering from first novelitis.
Interesting, well drawn characters and a wonderfully captured setting too often
fall victim to a writer obsessed with his ability. Or perhaps he's simply
trying too hard. Being his first published novel, these shortcomings can be
overlooked to a certain extent and, no doubt, experience will hone Fergusson's
ability and talent.
That said, I recommend THE SPRING OF KASPER MEIER. The excellent depiction of the period and locales and characters you care about make for a pretty good reading experience. It's a strong debut you don't want to miss.