The Alphabet House
So very different from the Department Q series (which I love), The Alphabet House was originally published in 1997 and is a stand alone novel that begins when two British pilots on a mission to photograph areas near Dresden, Germany during WWII. It is suspected that the Germans are building new factories that might be devastating to the British war effort.
James Teasdale and Bryan Young, the young pilots, are shot down during the mission; they manage to escape capture and board a hospital train, which ends up at a mental hospital deep inside Germany. Although Germany has previously made eliminating the mentally ill a matter of course, these wounded soldiers are all of high rank, and it would not serve Germany well to dispose of them.
Experimental meds and frequent shock treatments are utilized to cure these shell-shocked or mentally ill officers. As soon as possible, they are returned to the front lines. Anyone suspected of malingering is summarily executed.
As it turns out, James and Bryan are not the only ones pretending mental/emotional damage, so are a number of others in their ward. Fear of returning to the fighting, especially on the Eastern Front, keeps many from wanting to be "cured." Among the malingerers are three particularly nasty individuals who discuss their war crimes gleefully at night. When these three suspect that James has overheard their discussions of hidden war profit, they begin waging a terrible campaign against him. Both Bryan and James are unable to do much about it without revealing that they, too, are feigning insanity. Eventually, Bryan is able to escape.
The story is divided into two parts; the first part deals with the WWII portion of the story and the asylum in which the two young men find themselves, and the second portion occurs thirty years later when Bryan makes a final attempt to locate James.
The novel is long, but fascinating and horrific (the asylum).
WWII/Suspense. 1997; Feb. 24, 2015. Print version: 480 pages.