Cover image for The eye of the abyss
The eye of the abyss
Browne, Marshall.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2003.

Physical Description:
290 pages : 22 cm
General Note:
"A novel"--Cover.

"First published in Australia by Duffy & Snellgrove"--T.p. verso.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It is Germany, 1938, and Franz Schmidt is the chief auditor in a commercial bank in a provincial city. But as Schmidt will soon learn, the bank's prestigious new client, the Nazi party, is at once its least desirable. Schmidt will oversee their account, and soon, he is embroiled in the duplicity, violence and horror that is Nazi Germany. Schmidt can't help but be involved, and the first victim of the harsh realities of the Germans' politics is a Jewish secretary whom Franz tries to help, much to his wife's distress.

As Schmidt finds himself caught up in dangerous political machinations, he also finds himself, as the result of an act of compassion, under deadly suspicion. The Schmidts struggle to protect their marriage and their family without compromising their sense of decency, but eventually, Franz's world explodes. As events spin out of control, Franz must act, and he seeks revenge on those responsible by attempting a massive fraud on the Party itself.

In Eye of the Abyss , Marshall Browne crafts an intelligent historical thriller reminiscent of Philip Kerr, Christopher Reich and Alan Furst with a riveting pace and spellbinding plot all his own.

Author Notes

Marshall Browne , born in Melbourne, is a sixth generation Australian. He is currently working on a second Inspector Anders thriller. His wife Merell, is an interior designer, and their daughter Justine, works at the Australian Embassy, Washington D.C..

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

After a pair of diverting Euro-mysteries, Browne offers this superlatively chilling historical thriller. It is autumn 1938, the eve of ristallnacht, and the German banking firm of Wertheim & Co. has just landed a prestigious new client: the Nazi Party. Herr Dietrich, an enthusiastic Aryan, is taken on as an assistant director, the better to monitor the brisk influx of donations, and to cleanse the staff gene pool of Frau Dressler, a half-Jewish executive secretary. At the axis of this grim reckoning is staid bank auditor Franz Schmidt, a direct descendant of. S. Bach and a Teutonic blueblood who lost an eye some years past in a scuffle with brownshirts. Struggling to shake off his disbelief at the enormity of a hopeful nation going incrementally mad, Schmidt now finds himself forced to choose between damnable acquiescence and decisive (but possibly deadly) action. Browne wrings exquisite tension from each subtly realized glance, thought, and hesitation, and his plot twists captivate without straining for effect, resulting in an elegant and thoroughly credible atmospheric thriller with more impact and psychological depth than the cinematic romanticism of genre-leader Alan Furst. --David Wright Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Aussie-based Browne takes a break from his highly praised series about a one-legged European police detective, Inspector Anders, to start what one hopes will be another series, about a one-eyed German banker secretly fighting the Nazis. Franz Schmidt, chief auditor for a family-owned bank in an unnamed south German city, loses his eye defending a Jew attacked by Nazi thugs in 1935. A quiet and meticulous man, he apparently bears no grudges, though his wife and best friend aren't so sure. Three years later, when his bank is chosen as a repository for large amounts of Nazi Party cash, the other shoe drops, and Schmidt becomes a man of action. First, he takes great risks trying to help a female bank employee whose mother was Jewish. Then he dreams up a plan to punish Dietrich, the sleek and seductive party operative placed inside the bank. As he did in his two other books (Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools and The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders), Browne quickly creates a dark and convincingly Kafkaesque landscape, filled with people whose strengths and weaknesses radiate credibility. Dietrich and another top Nazi, von Streck, are frighteningly vivid, as are the endangered woman, her police inspector father, Schmidt's determined wife and his fragile friend. And Schmidt himself has our complete attention from the beginning, as he and we look for some possible light in the gathering storm of Nazi oppression. Readers who enjoy the WWII mysteries of Alan Furst, J. Robert Janes and Philip Kerr should especially savor this fine book. (Oct. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



  The Eye of the Abyss 1 A T ONE MINUTE to eight, Franz Schmidt, chief internal auditor of Bankhaus Wertheim & Co., boarded the tramcar standing in Bamberg Platz. His wife, Helga, a tall, full-figured woman with thoughtful eyes, waited beside the line with their four-year-old daughter, Trudi, to wave him goodbye. In the sunlight penetrating the thinning mist, the uplifted faces and hair of his family glowed gold. What a picture! Schmidt thought. Smiling, he gave his self-conscious wave. The conductor rang the bell, and the tram shuddered along its length. Helga smiled back, Trudi waved vigorously, and called out. He heard only: 'Papa!' The two dear faces passed from his vision. Precisely, he folded his paper into a narrow strip. For Schmidt, Tuesday, October 4, 1938, had begun like any other work day. 'Good morning, Herr Schmidt!' The conductor, green-uniformed, leaned heavily over the auditor. Schmidt looked up at the Viennese. 'Good morning, Herr Dorf.' He gave the correct fare. 'A real nip in the air, sir.' Schmidt admitted it. 'On the wireless, the Wetteramt says it'll be a hard winter. Well, all the news can't be good.' Schmidt concurred again. He wasn't a morning wireless listener himself. The conductor shrugged, swayed on down the car, agile despite his age and weight. Schmidt eyed the headlines: still rapturous about the Munich Agreement. He pursed his lips, and scanned the columns. It did appear that the Fuehrer had gained a bloodless victory, not only over Czechoslovakia but over Great Britain and France. Had war been averted? Despite the euphoria in the streets, Schmidt couldn't quite believe that. He turned to the finance pages. Certainly business was booming, humming in the air like electricity being generated. He had it carefully under observation, as though it were a suspect loan in the bank's books. A new section of autobahn had been opened. The National Socialist government was pressing forward. Ever forward. A tooth, lower left-hand side, had an unhealthy tingle. He checked it with his tongue. Damn! He wondered if Dr Bernstein was still in practice. He alighted at Potsdamerstrasse. Unaccountably, under his shoes glass crunched. Unaccountable only for a second. He looked aside. A brick had been put through the window of the corner shop. A haggard, fearful face glanced at him from the doorway, on which a Star of David had been crudely chalked. Averting his eye, he walked into a narrow street. These days there was more to worry about than weather. Still, this chilly breeze was a tribulation; it smacked into his face, and blew between rows of stone buildings whose bombastic façades, dripping with architectural embellishment, reminded the auditor of overweight burghers. Behind its glass, his eye-socket began to weep. As he walked he gave it dabs with a handkerchief. Thinking of the Jew's fear, he entered a building under its carved granite lintel. A brass plate said in small letters: Bankhaus Wertheim & Co AG, Private Bankers. 'Good morning, Herr Chief Auditor. The post's gone up.' Respectfully the head messenger nodded his head. Then, gasping for breath, he bustled to the lift, and flung open its door. Sympathetically the auditor recalled: Asthma. Touch of mustard gas, too. 'Thank you, Herr Berger,' he said. How many men had this mild and responsible servant killed in the war? Once in his small office on the second floor, Schmidt opened sixty or so letters with precise slits of his ivory-handled knife, a gift from his late father, noted the nature of the business, and put each into its departmental pouch. Nothing to draw his professional attention ... except this. He took up the letter from Berlin for Herr General-Director Wertheim stamped Confidential and examined the seal. After a moment, he inserted it unopened into a special leather pouch, pushed a buzzer, and a junior messenger hurried in and took it away. He resumed work left off yesterday, but the image of that seal - an eagle rampant on the swastika - remained in his mind's eye. Why on earth would Wertheims be receiving a letter from that organisation?   The first dislocation to Schmidt's routine came at 9.55: a knock at his door, and Fräulein Dressler entered. Surprised, he stood up. The general-director's private secretary had never visited his office before. She advanced into his room and stopped, her arms crossed over her abdomen, her hands splayed, cupping her elbows. She regarded him, his room, with considering eyes: brown, flecked with gold. A trick of the light? He regarded her: his surprise had turned to politeness. She seemed curious to see him in his domain. 'Good morning, Herr Schmidt. The General-Director wishes to see you at 10.30.' She paused. 'Please come to his office at that time.' 'Of course.' Schmidt nodded gravely. She paused, smiled. 'Always so serious, Herr Schmidt! It's not the end of the world.' Her eyes were glinting. Schmidt doubted that it would be. He bowed gravely; he couldn't help his nature. She had the reputation of being a humorist; she could afford to be in her rarefied position. Though today, was there an atmosphere of strain behind her remarks? 'Herr Schmidt.' With a slight, enigmatic curve of the lips she turned to go. In a rush, unexpectedly, Schmidt found himself registering impressions: darkish down above her upper lip, subtle heaviness in the hips, exaggerated shapeliness of her legs: hard-packed, swelling calves, thin ankles. Dancers' legs? But the suggestion of thick thighs. About thirty, the raven-black hair cut severely, symmetrically just below her ears. That flicker of a smile ... he stopped, startled at himself. Certainly enigmatic, but highly efficient, otherwise she wouldn't have lasted with Herr Wertheim. Her husky yet melodic voice lingered in his head. So did her perfume -- as discreet as the bank. He shook his head, sat down again, and turned back to familiar territory: his monthly report to the board. At 10.30, in the general-director's anteroom, the mystique of the first floor bore down on him, aided by wood-panelled walls on which hung the varnished, dead-pale faces of the founding Wertheims. Schmidt was a calm person but he felt his nerves quicken. Only once before had he been summoned to the inner sanctum: in 1934, he'd uncovered a client's convoluted fraud. Herr Wertheim had seen fit to personally commend him. Occasionally, he did come to the boardroom to explain an abstruse point. Otherwise ... The double doors at the end of the anteroom sprang open, revealing a briskly efficient Fräulein Dressler, with no trace of humour now. That letter with its thought-provoking seal flashed back into his mind. 'Herr Chief Auditor!' Herr Wertheim, fifty years a private banker, smiling benevolently, offered his recognition, his slender white hand, to the auditor, ushered him to a seat, and sat down himself in a high-backed chair padded with cushions. All wonderfully urbane. For a hundred years, the Wertheims had received royalty, statesmen, an affluent clientele - and sometimes valued employees - with such super-refined courtesy. 'Quite bloodless,' according to Schmidt's friend, deputy foreign manager Wagner. 'They get it with their mother's milk.'Also deceptive. Like Wagner, Schmidt knew Herr Wertheim had destroyed many men. However, no-one could doubt the bank's nationwide reputation for discretion and probity, domiciled though it was in this provincial city of 400,000. 'Herr Schmidt.'The general-director flicked a piece of lint from his sleeve as casually as he'd flicked competitors, enemies, and ex-lovers, into the abyss. 'Herr Schmidt! Excellent news this morning. In fact, it passed through your hands!' He bobbed his silver head, and let his pince-nez in its tortoiseshell frame drop to the end of its black ribbon. 'The National Socialist German Workers' Party is to entrust its business to Wertheims! What do you think of that?' The Nazis coming to Wertheims! Schmidt absorbed the surprising news, along with the note of triumph. 'All of their business, Herr General-Director?' 'Not their clearing business. Their investment business only.' Schmidt stared at the G-D's face. He'd never before seen it flushed with excitement. 'A very important acquisition,' he said carefully. 'And a great honour, Herr Schmidt! An arduous and special responsibility.' With a matching seriousness, Schmidt agreed. 'Well, well, what more can one say?' Wertheim leaned back as though needing a respite from this phenomenon. His gaze left the auditor's face and went like an arrow to a large painting on the wall: a statuesque woman posed against a gold-leafed background of intricately painted devices: wheels, cogs ... Beauty astride Commerce and Industry The brave new world! Purchased recently, it was the bank's only artistic acquisition for thirty years, and its selection had been widely commented on. Schmidt politely turned in his chair to examine it. More change. Herr Wertheim thought the purchase had the same risk-taking character as their step into the Nazi Party's ambit. Could an old private bank withstand that shock? His deceased brother would've thought not. Too political by far. He'd been a milky kind of man. A distinct contrast to himself. As head of the family he'd gazed into the perennially murky future of money and politics, weighed them up. Now he gazed into himself, too, wondered at the new tide he felt running there. It had happened like this: a Nazi Party functionary had phoned Wertheim. The Party was dissatisfied with the management of its investments. Would Wertheim & Co like to put forward a proposal to take over the business? Overnight, Herr Wertheim had considered the matter. The next day he'd travelled to Berlin. At Party headquarters, he'd met the man who'd phoned him. A man called von Streck. Alone, they'd discussed and agreed the arrangements.Von Streck would refer it to a committee for decision. Wertheim was left in no doubt that the fellow was high up in the Party; how high he couldn't tell; he used no title, and was one of those Nazis who didn't wear a uniform. The G-D had returned home confident that he'd handled the matter skilfully. However, he didn't overrate himself. Instinctively, he'd felt that the Party, perhaps the man he'd met, had a secondary agenda. He'd not penetrated what it was. In the fullness of time, he would. He trusted that it wouldn't be incompatible with his own. Schmidt wondered: What's this all about? He felt he was being put to some kind of test. Wertheim was thin of face and body; even of voice. But his natural cunning and intellect were definitely not thin. Abruptly, Wertheim returned to the present. 'I am sorry Herr Schmidt. And -- what do you think of that?' Schmidt, uncertain and slightly puzzled, had reached no conclusion about the picture. 'Very interesting, sir.' 'Like our lives today?' 'Too true, sir.' Our lives? The Nazi Party in Wertheims! The auditor couldn't get his mind away from it, but his face remained impassive. 'Back to business.'Wertheim steepled slender fingers. Where would a trusted employee like Schmidt stand on the NSDAP? He recalled the auditor had lost an eye. A wretched incident. Which one was it? Both watched him with an identical blue stare. What an act of courage! Hard to believe when you looked at this mild, correct fellow. 'Do forgive me, Herr Schmidt. I keep drifting off. My mind's so full. Now ... we will take it over on the thirteenth from their Berlin bank.' He smiled as he visualised the consternation there. 'Of course, Herr Schloss and his department will manage it. However, we can't afford the slightest problem. I want you to maintain a special overview. You'll report to me directly. Is this all clear, my dear Schmidt?' 'Yes, Herr General-Director.' It was clear if unprecedented. Despite Herr Wertheim's smooth confidence and excitement, Schmidt had picked up another undercurrent. Nerves? If it was so - natural enough. What a step it was! Schmidt's mind did range into remote corners, but in a million years wouldn't have anticipated this. Wertheim, uniformed in his boiled, white cuffs and collar, black suiting, silver necktie, gold watch-chain and rings, smiled at this future. 'A patriotic responsibility, my dear Schmidt. And, only a beginning.' Returning up the rear stairway to his office, passing the three large stone knights upright in their embrasures, Schmidt, a user of back ways ('Where will he strike next?' the staff said), felt the first presentiment of an invasion. Hitherto, he'd observed the rise of the Nazis circumspectly, and generally guarded his opinions. Herr Wertheim had said with a deceptive blandness: 'One of their people will join us as a director.' A Nazi functionary actually working in Wertheims! The filter of distance was about to be whipped away. Fräulein Dressler had given him a cryptic smile when she'd seen him out. Had it suggested pessimism?   Whatever it was, it had vanished behind her professional aura when, soon after Schmidt's departure, she took an instruction from Herr Wertheim: 'Fräulein, please have the directors assemble in the boardroom at five. We'll serve champagne. And, I think caviar. Not too much of that.' 'And only one glass of champagne as usual, Herr Wertheim? ' He was mean with small expenditures, and she teased him about it sometimes. He grinned. 'Now, Fraulein!' But when she went out her smile faded and there was a deepening chill in her heart. THE EYE OF THE ABYSS. Copyright (c) 2002 by Marshall Browne. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For informtion, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from The Eye of the Abyss by Marshall Browne All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.