A zinger of a thriller; The Torquemada Principle, by Jerrold Morgulas. New York: Rawson, wade. $10.95.
One measure of a novel of intrigue is how much of the story one can relate without giving away its secrets. According to this method, the less it is possible to relate, the better the story has been made. By this measure -- and by any other I know -- "The Torquemada Principle" is very, very good.
Its premise is broad. It is Germany, 1938. Hitler is agitating to invade Czechoslovakia. He is spurring the Germans on to what he regards as their destiny by all the means at his disposal. Within the highest military, government and civil ranks of the Reich, there is fear and distrust (as well as support and enthusiasm) for his goals and methods.
The novel begins with the introduction of two parallel plots (in both senses of the word). The first involves a Gestapo search for certain valuable documents, the import of which becomes clear as the story, brilliantly and surely, proceeds. The other plot depicts a conspiracy of a few anti-Hitler leaders who are struggling to find a way to declare their Fuhrer mad, to jail him, and return the fatherland to a less suicidal course.
The mood of the novel and of the nation it portrays is one of desperation, panic, and paranoia. At the center of the nation -- and implicity, the novel -- is Adolph Hitler, whose mania for racial purity, national unity, and international control is supreme. Any citizen who withholds him or herself from this passion -- and certaily anyone who is critical of it -- is an enemy. Everyone may be scrutinized, including those who do the watch ing; anyone may be eliminated. This mood, this nearly palpable fright, is as much a part of "The Torquemada Principle" as are its many characters and settings and plots.
There is much to be praised in this book but nothing more so than its evocation of characters and places. an aging policeman follows lead after lead through piles of documents, not knowing what he is expected to find, not expecting the dangers his eventual knowledge brings. Nazi middlemen feel as panicked and murderous toward their superiors, whom they must obey, as toward their underlings, whom they may ruin.
Writing in brief chapters that move rapidly from Berlin to Vienna, from London to Graz, Morgulas employs a cinematic, documentary technique skillfully and economically. He gives readers enough to hold each scene in place but too little to satisfy one's curiosity entirely. His cast of dozens all have clear, firm identities.
He has written a novel of intrigue about a grim, serious subject, without producing yet another tract and without avoiding the heinous aspects. If one measure of his success is how little one can relate of this book without spoiling it, another is how much one wants to do so: how much pleasure it would give to tell this story. and again, by this measure among all others, this is a very, very good novel indeed.