Pale Horse Riding

Written by Chris Petit
Review by Ann Northfield

This is a strange and unsettling novel, primarily due to its setting. The place of Auschwitz permeates the book. It is set mainly in this place of horror, but in a disquieting way: people are murdered, shot or killed with lethal injection, but this is almost by the by. It is a fact of the institution in which they live and work. The guards help themselves to the leftover piles of clothes and objects from the Aladdin’s Cave nicknamed Canada. The sub-text is of course that these are all possessions of prisoners and, as the reader is well aware, very few of these people survived.

Usually novels with Auschwitz involved are concerned with overtly creating moral outrage and sorrow in the reader. Here it is much more subtle. The place drives the guards to casual sex and drinking. The psychological toll of constantly murdering others is evident. Although there are many examples of man’s inhumanity to man for the reader to face, from institutionalised murders to beatings, crucifixion and shootings, the focus is more on the internal politics of the system. This is the second book featuring Schlegel and Morgen, the first being The Butchers of Berlin, and various things, such as the sub-plot with Sybil the Jewish seamstress, would have been clearer had I read the earlier one.

The two men have come to Auschwitz to investigate stolen gold being sent through the post, but become targets themselves as many of those in power are just fine with the way things are. This is an uncomfortable, dark and thought-provoking read which examines a terrible part of history from a very different angle.