“Hitler’s Silver Box,” by Allen Malnak. Two Harbors Press. 328 pages. $16.95.
“Every family has a secret, but Uncle Max’s could wreak havoc on the world.” Such is the official product description for this exciting thriller. Indeed, everything is at stake. What can an overworked young physician do about it?
Dr. Bruce Starkman’s responsibilities as chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital are interrupted by the news of his uncle’s mysterious death. Uncle Max, the owner of a small book store, would seem to have died of natural causes, but there are some suggestions of foul play. Who would wish to murder this seemingly innocuous senior citizen?
Readers know what’s up long before Bruce finds out, as the first chapter of the book lays out a situation in which Max is threatened and tortured by neo-Nazis who ask him for a special box. Max’s refusal to give them what they want or tell them where it is leads to his death.
What arouses Bruce’s suspicion? Well, that his Orthodox uncle is cremated (against Jewish law) and that something is not right about the funeral home paperwork. As Bruce attempts to settle his uncle’s affairs, more questions come up and there is always a difficult path to partial answers.
Is it a coincidence that Bruce’s ex-girlfriend dies suddenly, a woman who might be considered Max’s confidante and someone who shared his suspicions? And who is the mysterious man who seems to have unsuccessfully attempted to save her – a man who suggested to Bruce that it would be best not to involve the police? And why was Bruce’s friend on the police force suddenly called away and replaced by a subordinate?
And how does Bruce himself become a suspect?
The answers, as one might expect from the title, have to do with events from Max’s life as a teenager during the Holocaust.
More specifically, the answers involve records from the Theresianstadt concentration camp and the mind-blowing contents of the silver box that, we discover, had been crafted under duress by a young prisoner, Bruce’s Uncle Max, who had later escaped and hidden the box.
Bruce discovers Max’s journal and with that discovery he commits himself to following through on foiling the neo-Nazi plot that demands retrieval of the box and its contents – detailed plans for the resurgence of Nazi power and world-wide domination.
Along the way, Bruce meets an Israeli security official, Miriam, who is perhaps a bit too much of a brazen, brainy, martial, and sexually magnetic stereotype Israeli babe. I imagine a somewhat younger Angelica Jolie in the movie. They join forces in an attempt to find the box ahead of the neo-Nazi leaders and their thugs. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Naples Florida Weekly for January 12, 2012 and other Florida Weekly editions (including the March 1 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition), click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 1. For Dr. Malnak’s story about the writing of the book, click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 2