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Plot of 'Daddy' has familiar ring, but characters have life

By Loup Durand

Villard: 1988

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This review first appeared in the San Diego Evening Tribune in 1988.

The best, most riveting, thrillers are those with believable, yet interesting, characters. The best plot in the world can be shot down by flat, two-dimensional characters or, worse yet, personalities that are too far into the realm of the imaginary.

While the plot of French author Loup Durand's "Daddy" mines familiar territory – hiding from Nazis in the occupied French countryside – Durand's characterizations bring the story to life. The protagonists and chief antagonist in "Daddy" strike a narrow balance, as the author achieves both credibility and creative individuality.

Thomas, the central figure of "Daddy," is an 11-year-old boy living in the French countryside in the 1930s. He is also the illegitimate son of the granddaughter of a French banker wanted by the Nazi government. Thomas' great-grandfather has been helping German Jews to secret funds ($700 million worth) to America through Swiss accounts, the numbers of which are encoded and known only to him and Thomas' mother.

When the elder banker is captured by the Germans and commits suicide rather than betray his investors (a nobility of cause that does seem rather far-fetched in a banker), Gregor Laemmle is assigned to find Thomas' mother, Maria, who the Gestapo suspects of also having the secret account codes.

It is at this point, as Laemmle picks up the hunt, that the story begins in earnest. Laemmle, an admitted pedophile, soon falls for young Thomas, who he plans to kidnap to force Maria out into the open. We also soon learn that Thomas is endowed of a generous intellect, which was carefully cultivated by his mother.

As the chase progresses and the Germans get closer to Thomas, Maria sends a letter to his father, a wealthy American who does not know he fathered a son during a brief tryst with Maria. But by the time David Quartermain can get to Europe, events have moved nearly out of control.

The chase climaxes several times, each in an exciting, yet fairly believable, manner that needs no superhuman heroics to sustain suspense. Along the way, we learn that Thomas' super brain had been coached by his mother in order to allow him to continue his great-grandfather's mission: Thomas has over 100 account codes and customer names tucked away between his ears.

But while the plot is wonderfully spun, it is the players that are most intriguing. Thomas, who finds himself irrevocably committed to a cause he was born into, plays against the Germans searching for him on a huge chess board in his mind. He also longs for a day when he can escape Europe so that his family and friends will no longer be killed on account of him. Yet, while he anguishes for those killed trying to protect him, he coldly sacrifices more on behalf of his mission, soberly recognizing what he is doing all along.

Laemmle is also a wonderfully complex creation. Although he has been entrusted by the Gestapo with recovering the money Maria's grandfather helped spirit out of the country, Laemmle soon comes to cherish the chase more than the mission. And his desire for Thomas, which falteringly stumbles toward a warped love, causes him to double-cross other German officers to prevent the boy's torture or death.

Four Spanish bodyguards are remnants of Republican Spain's armed forces, and are paying back a debt incurred to Maria during the Revolution. The most mysterious is Miguel, who can shoot the center out of a dime at a quarter mile and is a master of camouflage, seen only when he wants to be seen.

"Daddy" is a truly great suspense novel; a heart-stopping plot combines with a superb cast for a result on a level with Tom Clancy and Len Deighton's best.