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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Walter Satterthwait

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To purchase Cavalcade

Title: Cavalcade
Author: Walter Satterthwait
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 354 pages
Availability: Cavalcade - US
Cavalcade - UK
Cavalcade - Canada
Scharaden - Deutschland
  • The third in the trilogy featuring Phil Beaumont and Jane Turner

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Our Assessment:

B : decent Nazis-in-the-Weimar-Republic-era thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 3/1/2005 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Satterthwait's third mystery featuring Pinkerton agents Jane Turner and Phil Beaumont doesn't work as well as its predecessors (Escapade and Masquerade), in part because the subject matter, an investigation into a failed attempt on the life of a young Adolf Hitler, clashes with Beaumont's witty asides and the burgeoning romance between the two sleuths." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cavalcade begins right where Masquerade left off, Pinkerton operatives Jane Turner and Philip Beaumont immediately moving on to the next case and country.
       It is May, 1923, and the Pinkerton agency has been hired by no one less than ... Adolf Hitler, to investigate who took a shot at him while he was recently briefly in Berlin. This is still the early days of the Nazi Party, far from the heights and power it would begin to really reach a decade later, but locally -- in Bavaria -- it's already a significant force, and its malign influence is already also being felt elsewhere in Germany.
       Like the previous volumes in this series, the narrative more or less alternates between letters sent by Jane to a friend of hers, keeping her abreast of events as they unfold -- Jane is an avid correspondent ("I've never met anyone who sent as many letters as Miss Turner", Phil observes) -- and longer chapters narrated by Phil in his deadpan style. Their go-between in Germany is Ernst Hanfstaengl -- who goes by the unlikely nickname of 'Putzi' --, a Hitler-confidant who speaks fluent English, convenient, since the American Phil doesn't know German (though Englishwoman Jane is quite fluent and frequently called on to translate as the case proceeds).
       Hitler's entourage is convinced that the Communists -- still very much a political power at the time -- are responsible, but the Pinkertons, not as immersed in German politics, try to keep a more open mind.
       Very few people knew that Hitler would be in Berlin, and practically all those who did were Party-insiders -- and so the secondary but perhaps more important (to Hitler) question is who revealed Hitler's whereabouts to the would-be assassin -- i.e. who is the traitor in the group. Not all the Nazis are thrilled that Hitler is entrusting Pinkertons -- foreigners ! -- with the investigation -- and some in high positions are sniffing around on their own as well (and hence interfering), but Hitler's word is absolute, and Phil makes clear that he and Jane have to be allowed to conduct the investigation their way and, as long as they have Hitler's backing, they can. It begins with the short list of Nazis who knew where Hitler was headed, and when, including several who accompanied him (including Putzi), all of whom Phil insists on interviewing. The list includes several familiar names: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Ernst Roehm, and Alfred Rosenberg, all of whom the Pinkertons do meet and speak to.
       There is also the nature of the visit, and who Hitler was meeting; this too is information that the Pinkertons receive, and follow up on (and basically involved Hitler sounding out the military how they would feel about him staging a putsch against the government -- as he would then attempt in the fall of that year). Phil and Jane look a little beyond the people who knew directly about the trip and meeting as well, exploring whether someone might have let some information slip (as indeed eventually proves to be the case). So also they speak to the Wagner family -- yes, Richard's -- since Hitler stopped in Bayreuth on his way to Berlin.
       A police officer in Berlin, Sergeant Biberkopf, leading investigations there looks on Phil and Jane somewhat warily, but ultimately sees that they are his best option for seeing to it that justice is done, and Phil tries to play fair with him. Things get messy fairly quickly with some deaths in circumstances that obviously are connected to the case, but where it's unclear what exactly the connections are. Talking to the Nazis mostly proves of little help -- they are all convinced that the blame is with the Communists, and they all have their own stories straight. Sometimes suspiciously straight ..... But Phil and Jane are pros, and despite the occasional romantic distractions -- at least for Jane -- they slowly get to the bottom of things. That bottom is, however, mostly just how terrible the Nazis are -- as Jane writes in one of her letters: "I don't like Germany. There is a darkness here, and in the darkness a sickness is spreading" -- and they solve some of the other mysteries surrounding the case (i.e. the reasons behind the deaths of some of the people close to it) before they actually figure out what they were hired to.
       Satterthwait gives Phil's narrative a nice easy-going style, while Jane's shorter outbursts are a bit more high-strung (and shift quickly from hot to cold and back) -- making for a decent change of pace. There's solid humor throughout, if sometimes it's a bit too easy and obvious (when they interview Hess he tells them: "I have always very much wanted to visit England"), sometimes a bit strained (as when meat-eater Phil suffers through a meal at the vegetarian Wagners). (He also maybe tries to slip in a few too many famous names -- too-forced subtly, too --, as even Greta Garbo and Vladimir Nabokov are sighted in passing.)
       Satterthwait does capture the creepy rise and success of Hitler and his followers well -- and their virulent anti-Semitism, and how even those who seem more open-minded come to be in the thrall of Hitler. A nice/disturbing touch is Phil and Jane's realization that there are interests outside Germany who are siding with Hitler as well.
       The romantic tension between Phil and Jane is handled with a light touch, with Jane finding herself with another (problematic) suitor, a supposed psychic; the tension of will she/won't she feels a bit artificial, but the poor girl is still a virgin and she's quite desperate to get that millstone off her neck, one way or another, adding a bit of frisson to the investigation. (A bit forced, too, is the fact that she bears a striking resemblance to the woman in Hitler's favorite painting, Die Sünde by Franz von Stuck, leading Hitler to lasciviously also set his sights on her, with rather awkward results.)
       If the actual case -- who took a shot at Hitler -- is a bit underwhelming (though perfectly satisfactorily cleared up in the end), Phil and Jane's slow and steady investigation, doing the rounds of all those who might have let word slip, is satisfying, especially in allowing for a tour of different milieus of the time -- which Satterthwait presents quite well, including just how shattered the German economy is (which conveniently allows the Pinkerton hard currency dollars to stretch very far indeed). As a modest thriller showing just how terrible a personality-focused political force could be, even just in its beginnings, Cavalcade is a fine read. The novel isn't up to the level of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels, but it is quite enjoyable.
       It's a shame that this was the last of these that Satterthwait wrote; apparently it wasn't very successful, and he dropped his duo after this, the third in the series, but they're an enjoyable pair of investigators and would have been fun to follow further.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 July 2020

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Cavalcade: Reviews: Walter Satterthwait: Other books by Walter Satterthwait under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Walter Satterthwait lived 1946 to 2020.

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