The story takes place in a small town called Barnard in Texas during the Second World War, as you would imagine the war casts a big shadow over even the smallest towns, patriotism is prevalent in a town with more than its fair share of German ex-patriots and like all foreigners, more than anything they just want to fit in to the community. However this fragile unity is to come under serious threat when the town’s young men start to go missing and the discovery of a body in the woodland is the catalyst to crisis as the murder is linked to the German community.
The story has three main characters, one being Sherriff Tom Rabbit who investigates the murder, while at the same time trying to control fraying tempers as the community threatens to implode. Tom is a good man, with a sense of right and wrong but at the same time he is typical of his environment primarily regarding his views on homosexuality, his beliefs dictate that no man should be damned without evidence as he resists any form of discrimination.
The second is Ernst Lang, a former Nazi officer who lives on his own and keeps a low profile, a quiet man with many secrets Ernst’s history is explored via extracts from his journal, a violent past that includes explicit descriptions of his homosexuality.
Tim Randall is a teenage boy whose father is away fighting the war, with only the guidance of a working mother Tim spends most evenings with a friend and there life changes dramatically with the tensions of the town. He forms a sort of friendship with ‘The German’ Ernst Lang living across the street and Ernst attempts to educate him against the town’s escalating prejudice. When Tim and some unsavoury characters spy his gay neighbour having sex with another man, coupled with the news that his father is missing in action, he becomes convinced ‘The German’ is responsible for the murders, this and the ensuing actions lead to violent tragedy.
The author provides a simmering tension that escalates at a perfect pace, a murder mystery that has many layers and a dark coming of age tale that for Tim Randall, caught up in the towns frantic race to find a murderer, ignores what’s right and succumbs to the potential evil present in everyone.
The sex scenes are explicit and certainly a talking point but they provide the fulcrum point to the story, focus should be centred on the excellent story that Lee Thomas has written and the character development chillingly explored.