June 30, 2004
Question: Jeff, this is your first historical novel. What triggered the idea to place a story in 1936 Berlin?
Jeffery Deaver: The inspiration for the book was September 11th. I wanted to write a book with a different villain—basically, pure evil, institutionalized evil, rather than your typical hit man or serial killer. But since I don’t find fundamentalist terrorism particularly compelling for a thriller, I searched for some large-scale evil that would give me the chance to write about something a bit different and yet keep a certain familiarity about the book. The Nazis came to mind immediately. I liked the Olympics as an image because of the stark irony: There was Hitler putting on a show for world harmony while at the same time preparing for war and murdering thousands of opponents in the early concentration camps.
Question: I imagine that writing this book took an amazing amount of research because you touch on so many historical facts. Where did you begin?
Jeff: Yes, indeed. Usually it takes me one year to research and write a book. Garden of Beasts took me two, and the extra year was devoted almost entirely to research. I read perhaps ten thousand pages of material from books, the Internet, declassified government documents, correspondence, maps. Even though we know how certain aspects of the story played out (World War II did occur, for instance), I was careful not to read anything past the fall of 1936, since I didn’t want to have my characters anticipate what might happen.
Question: The story is based in history yet it is a very suspenseful thriller. How did you balance the facts with your fiction?
Jeff: My number one responsibility is to give my readers a sweaty-palm thriller, not a history book. I tried very hard to incorporate only those facts into the book that would move the story along. For instance, there are very accurate scenes involving Hitler, Goering and Goebbels (their dialog is modeled after actual transcripts of theirs), but those scenes aren’t gratuitous. They introduce a subplot that pays off at the end of the book in a big way.
Question: Can you describe the main characters: Paul Schumann, Willi Kohl, and Reinhard Ernst?
Jeff: Paul is a hit man for the New York mob (he works for Luciano and other assorted mobsters). But he’s a hit man with a conscience. He’s like a soldier (he was a decorated infantryman in WWI); he only kills other killers. Willi Kohl is a senior investigator in the Kripo, the Berlin criminal police. He’s smart, hardworking, loves his family (and his bratwurst and desserts!), and dislikes the Nazis, but is forced to work among them. He is the most efficient and relentless of all the foxes on the trail of Paul Schumann. Reinhard Ernst—Hitler’s rearmament tzar—is the most complex character in the book. He is a former WWI hero and has a deep love of the German people and nation. He sees Hitler as a temporary evil and thinks he can work toward a better country after he’s removed; still, he must do his duty, which means making the country ready for war.
Question: Do you have a favorite character in this book?
Jeff: My favorite is probably Otto Webber. He’s a small-time crime boss and operator in Berlin. He’s funny, lives life to the fullest and forms an improbable friendship with Paul.
Question: Do you plan on writing any other historical novels?
Jeff: I may. But it would have to be a story that would let me tell my typical novel—many twists and turns, surprise endings, and a very short time frame, one or two days (which probably eliminates the Hundred-Years War!).
Question: You have mentioned that there is a connection in Garden of Beasts to the Lincoln Rhyme series. Do you want to share anything more about this?
Jeff: The reference is in the last half of the book.