Monday, April 22, 2013
The Goering Treasure
The Goering Treasure, by Gordon Davis
No month stated, 1980 Zebra Books
Len Levinson recently mailed me a wonderful gift – a package containing six of his novels. The Goering Treasure was one of them, and it was one I didn’t know much about, other than it had been published under his “Gordon Davis” psuedonym, the name Len used for his Sergeant series. Len included a note with the books, stating:
The Goering Treasure includes one of the most embarrasingly disgusting scenes I’ve ever written, which is saying something because I’ve written many disgusting scenes.
I couldn’t imagine a more compelling endorsement, so The Goering Treasure went to the top of my reading list. Like Len’s Sergeant series, this one also takes place in WWII, but it’s a standalone and not related to any series. It’s also not really a war novel, instead occurring Gravity’s Rainbow-style in the final days of the war, and concerns the efforts of a diverse group of characters as they attempt to track down the fabled “Goering Treasure,” a massive cache of jewels and gold looted by Goering during his sweep through Africa in the 1930s.
The novel starts off with a very lurid vibe, introducing us to a few of our decadent characters. First there’s Goering himself, corpulent and wasted from years of morphine addiction, stumbling about the magnificent expanse of his castle. He hides his fabled treasure in a secret chamber beneath his first wife’s masoleum, and is prone to venturing down there in an opium fog and staring at the wealth. As the novel opens he’s approached by representatives of Der Spinne, a faction of Nazi die-hards who have sworn to keep the fascist flame burning after Germany’s inevitable defeat. They want Goering’s treasure to finance Der Spinne’s activities, and Goering tells them he’ll think about it.
Der Spinne leaves behind a rep to stay on Goering’s estate; this is Rolf Engel, a Gestapo bastard who carries out the scene Len mentioned in his letter, a scene which occurs around fifty pages in. Before leaving for Goering’s castle, Engel indulges in one of his favorite activities, entering a concentration camp in Berlin and visiting the “joy division,” where he forces a lovely young Jewish prisoner to perform fellatio on him before he blows her head off. The scene certainly is disgusting, but Len shouldn’t feel too bad about writing it – I mean, David Alexander pulled off a sequence a hundred times more disgusting when he had his Neo-Nazi scum raping and murdering an entire town in Z-Comm #1.
There’s more lurid stuff afoot in these early pages, like when Rudy and Kurt, two affable pimps, listen to one of their prostitutes as she tells a pretty gross story about how her Nazi mark gets off on having her relieve herself on him. All of this depraved stuff makes the reader expect that The Goering Treasure is going to be one hell of a lurid read, but after only one more such sequence – where Rudy seduces pretty young Erika Mueller in Goering’s castle – all such material disappears and it all just becomes a “regular” sort of novel. This is not a bad thing, but it does leave the novel a strange feeling…you keep waiting for it to get down and dirty again, but it never does.
The only American protagonist in The Goering Treasure is Dawson, a square-jawed type who works for military intelligence. Having studied in Berlin before the war, Dawson speaks fluent German and can pass himself off as a native. He’s snuck into Germany via submarine and makes his way for Goering’s castle, his mission to ascertain whether the treasure exists. Len plays up on the madness of the Third Reich in a goofy scene where Dawson is forced into a truck by some SS pricks; Dawson is certain he’s been made but instead the officers are corralling all the soldiers they can find. They take them to a secluded location, where it turns out they’ve all been assembled to be featured as extras in Joseph Goebbels’s latest Nazi propaganda film – despite the fact that these soldiers would be better suited aiding the failing war effort.
Len covers all of the bases in the novel, as it ranges from sadism to comedy. Again, there isn’t much action, other than one or two gunfights and a chase scene late in the game – but then the chase scene is played more for laughs, with the hapless Kurt and Rudy trying to get out of East Germany. The central plot also comes and goes, with more of a focus on the characters and their interractions. For example Erika Mueller; engaged to a young Luftwaffe ace, Erika gives herself to Engel early in the book, only for her fiance to witness the act. The heartbroken fiance immediately leaves Goering’s estate and goes to the front line, where he dies in battle; Erika, when we next see her, hates both herself and Engel (whom she tries to stab with a fork), and spends the rest of the narrative in mourning, only finding a bit of salvation with Rudy and Kurt (who realize she is too much of a highborn lady to become one of their hookers).
Engel also goes through an unexpected arc. Starting off the novel as the expected Nazi sadist, Engel is later outed as having Jewish genes and thus is sent to a concentration camp himself – in fact, the same one in Berlin where he used to have his sick fun. Here Len delivers an unexpected left hook, with the previously-despicable Engel reduced to a blind shambles of a man, mutilated nearly to death by his former SS fellows, thrown into a prison shack with several Jews. The most memorable character in the novel makes his sole appearance here, a Rabbi who tries to take care of Engel, obviously not knowing who he once was (and the implication is clear that he would still care for him even if he did know) – this is a powerful scene, and yet another indication of how one can find treasure in trash.
For the most part though the novel plays with a darkly comedic bent; the opening, with its lurid acts and drug-blitzed Nazis stumbling around in a zombie-like fog, has you expecting more of a depraved sort of trawl through the Third Reich, before the novel switches gears into more of a farce as the various characters try to locate the Goering Treasure and spirit it away for their various causes. The Soviets even get involved, once they take over East Berlin, though they serve more as foils, not even aware that the treasure exists. One of the few action scenes takes place between them and an Allied commando team, but Len focuses more on Rudy and Kurt, who happen to have stumbled upon the fray and take advantage of the situation.
I guess Goering himself represents the novel’s change of mood – as the novel opens Goering is a wasted shell of his former self, living in his own drug-induced world. But as Germany’s conditions become more grim Goering gets back to his former self, ridding the drugs from his system and dropping pounds, ready to work out a treaty with the US. There’s another funny sequence where Dawson is captured shortly after arriving on Goering’s estate, but on his way to the firing squad he’s diverted to a meeting with the man himself; Goering, hearing an American has been discovered, assumes that Dawson has been sent here by President Roosevelt, and after telling Dawson the terms of his surrender he has him flown to France – where Dawson is promptly captured by Canadian soldiers who assume he is a Luftwaffe officer and throw him into a POW camp.
The novel goes through the end of the war and into the uncertain times of postwar Germany, and here Len ties up all of his characters – romance sparking as Dawson and Erika run into each other in a café in Berlin (having briefly met in Goering’s castle, they know they’ve crossed paths before but can’t remember when or where), Engel living on the streets as a blind beggar, Kurt and Rudy working out a lucrative deal with the US, and finally Goering himself, now a prisoner of the US, ready to die like a soldier.
As for the treasure, half of it gets taken by Der Spinne (Len leaves their future unknown, with Josef Bormann ready to continue the Reich in Argentina), the other half, thanks to Kurt and Rudy, in the hands of the US. But really the treasure is just the framework Len uses to tie together a web of unrelated characters, providing a multifaceted view of the final days of World War II.
And as usual all of Len’s characters come to life, each given to ruminations, introspection, and telling jokes. Some of the dialog he writes for Goering is pretty great, and Engel has the best line of the entire novel, answering an American’s question on the final page of how the Germans could allow Nazism to arise, what with its concentration camps and mass murders: “You see, we didn’t know about those things.” And plotwise he’s not held back by the usual constraints of series fiction; here he follows his characters wherever they take him.
So then, while it wasn’t the depraved trawl into the insane world of the Third Reich I was hoping for, The Goering Treasure instead turned out to be a powerful novel; maybe a little unbalanced at times in tone, but gripping nonetheless, with the usual Len Levinson knack for character and humor. I asked Len for his current thoughts on the book, and here’s what he told me:
The novel itself was my take on a type of novel about Nazis being published then, written by writers such as, I think, Robert Ludlum. I also was influenced to some degree by Sophie’s Choice, the novel, not the movie. Elie Weisel said that writers shouldn't write fiction about the Holocaust, because they'd only cheapen or diminish it, and I think he was right. I guess I was trying to plumb the true horror of the camps, without holding anything back. Decent Jewish women actually were forced to become sex gratification units for Nazi officers, according to my research. And these officers unquestionably were sick in their heads. In addition, I'm fascinated by the Nazi era for all the usual reasons. How could the nation that produced Beethoven, Kant and Thomas Mann, also produce a Hitler and raise him to power? Good answers are provided in the bio of Hitler by Joachim Fest, and Gita Sereny's bio of Albert Speer. But it isn't specifically a Holocaust novel. It's about what might have happened beneath the surface in the final months of War Two in Europe and beyond, told from the viewpoint of research as filtered through my rather peculiar psyche.