The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich
Henry Mazel (2011)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (10/11)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked substantial books. Partially it’s because I don’t want them to end too quickly when I enjoy them and partially because I really like to see how the author develops the storyline, the plot, and the characters. Short stories and the like are usually not high on my list; I could probably count those I’ve really enjoyed on the fingers of one hand. When I received Henry Mazel’s “The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich” and saw that it had barely more than 30 pages, I truly did not expect much. Yet I was totally and utterly wrong.
What Mr. Mazel achieved in those 30 pages was something all too many authors fail to achieve in books ten times the size: an unbelievable sense of time and place, intriguing plot, taut storyline, well fleshed-out characters, and more twists and turns than I could have ever imagined. His style is unique, capturing both the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the grit and grime of New York equally well. His hero, PI Alex Rada, as well as all the other characters, even the minor ones, is incredibly well drawn and completely believable. My favorite amongst them would have to be Althea Bix though – a rarely strong female in a male-dominated world.
The plot, involving the Nazis – lead by Hitler and Goebells, and their plan to assassinate Marlene Dietrich for her involvement in helping the refugees, plays beautifully against the twin backgrounds of sparkly Hollywood and much grittier Harlem. Mr. Mazel does not shy away from hard truths and unpleasant facts, including the racial tensions and injustice. Without giving away too much of the story, let me just say that nothing is quite the way it seems at the first glance. And since I’d really love to see Alex Rada in another story, I hope I managed to misunderstand the very last sentence of this brilliant novelette.
I highly recommend “The Plot Against Marlene Dietrich” to any reader who enjoys a truly well written mystery, particularly those with solid historical background. While there were faint echoes of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler in it, I mean that in the best possible sense. I found it to be a very unique and refreshing take on classical hardboiled crime fiction, and decidedly one of the best ways to spend an hour with a good book.