Experiments on humans are not a novelty in our humanity-deprived society, but in a psychological thriller The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen set in a WW2 Nazi Germany and post-Nazi Europe, to be more precise England and Germany, are as shocking as the war itself and destruction it had left in lives and minds of those who survived it.
The world of two RAF pilots and good friends James and Bryan crashes down with the crash of their plane during a special photo-reconnaissance mission near Dresden. In hope of survival and running from the pursuit of enemy soldiers, they jump aboard a train which was supposed to be their way out to freedom. What they didn't know was that the train had been full of senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front and that instead to freedom it would take them deeper into Germany, behind the enemy lines, into the mental hospital the Alphabet House.
In a novel about war and an attempt of life during and after it, which according to its author is not a war novel, human relationships are put on the most challenging trial. Will friendship endure insanity, daily shock treatments, experimental drugs and the madness of one time, will it past the test of the basic instinct for survival which has lead to escape of one of the friends from the torments and captivity in a hellhole and ultimately to betrayal of another?
The Alphabet House is full of razor-sharp twists and turns, situations which border with surreal and almost impossible, acts of brutality and violence that will freeze blood in the veins of the reader. It is a collision and a symbiosis of the world of sanity and madness, where the unthinkable from our present perspective becomes natural in the blurred sight of a tortured mind.
Besides fascinatingly dissecting the behavior of the human mind, Jussi Adler-Olsen in The Alphabet House raises some serious questions about human relationships, how far we can go before we irrevocably damage them and whether a sincere repentance and goodwill are enough to forgive and maybe even forget.
In the particular case of James and Bryan, the real question is can friendship survive the act of Bryan's betrayal and thirty years of James' drugged and lost life? Can Bryan's wealth and money restore their relationship to the days and voices that were resonating from the past, when they were still kids? Or is the gap simply too big, the mind too damaged and the will too broken, just like the white crests of waves crashed by untamable and unforgiving forces of nature under the cliffs of Dover.