FALL ROTTEN follows the escapades of a group of crooks, expatriates and locals in the days before the invasion of France by the Nazis in WWII. The story depicts the heist of a vault full of fascist gold, but Eric Serrell’s book is not really a thriller—more of a comedy, a Noel Coward play or a movie by Preston Sturges. It’s the kind of film Ealing Street Studios (best known for a series of classic films produced in the post-WWII years) might have made, in the finest caper-heist-comedy tradition.
The characters in FALL ROTTEN are delightful and sophisticated, unabashedly cynical, and very funny. The dialogue is sharp and cutting; much of the humor is the “gallows” variety. Savvy Hemingway fans will recognize the scene and characters—an international cast, with oddballs from Britain, America, Germany, Denmark, and France, of course. All have offbeat ways of making a franc or two while maintaining a carefree existence. Crime and corruption abounds, along with wit. Definitely the place to be, at least until the Germans show up in the early summer of 1940.
Most of the book is told via two-person conversations, and not everyone will enjoy and appreciate the banter. A healthier dose of story and straightforward narrative in the early going might have helped the mix. It’s an ensemble cast, with a great many characters to keep straight (with their aliases, too), and not one main protagonist or particular point-of-view. For many readers, FALL ROTTEN won’t be an “easy read.” It’s also 435 pages—too long, frankly.
But for those with plenty of time and a little patience, the book pays off nicely in the last third when the main story kicks in and the side threads wrap up as well. In particular, the improbable love affair between a police inspector and one of the conspirators is both amusing and surprisingly touching, as is the eventual coupling of a bickering German man and a Danish co-conspirator. The heist itself has a number of fits and starts, twists and turns, unexpected surprises—everything you’d want in a caper comedy. The fact these vagabonds are taking from the fascists (and ultimately the Nazis) makes it all the more fun, and the rousing, patriotic ending is well-deserved and welcome. The quality of the writing in Eric Serell’s FALL ROTTEN is first-rate throughout, and when the jokes hit home, they pack a wallop.
FALL ROTTEN is an often hilarious, fun, witty, screwball-comedy heist-adventure.
~Dave Eisenstark for IndieReader