Weimar Vibes by Phil Rowan

In his novel Weimar Vibes (228 pp, $0.99 from Amazon) Phil Rowan has written a topical story about a frightening near-future that we, here across the Pond, see reflected in the campaign slogans of politicians who have misappropriated the term “Tea Party.” In the England of Weimar Vibes, rising unemployment and falling economies turn many people away from the usual political parties toward someone who can restore order, address moral failings, and make Britain great again. Sound familiar? It should. Rowan, who knows his history, reflects Weimar Germany in his title on purpose.

Into this power gap comes a neo-Nazi named Oskar Kerner, who exploits peoples’ fears and innate biases. Again, sound familiar? His followers call him “Der Fuhrer,” and instead of being repulsed by his skinhead acolytes, the average Briton begins to think order of any kind may be acceptable.

Kerner’s following in the U.K. piques the interest of the Home Office, who seek some way to discredit him. To do this, they recruit, improbably, a near-alcoholic, down-on-his-luck journalist named Rudi Flynn.

Drink and a failed marriage (his ex-wife is in a mental institution in Alabama) have wrecked Flynn’s career, and the only place he can find employment is on a Murdoch-like tabloid. The Home Office convince him to pretend to espouse Kerner’s beliefs (Flynn and Kerner were college classmates), get into Kerner’s organization, then discredit him. This is the stuff of many an espionage novel, and, since that’s what I write, I was eager to read Weimar Vibes.

However, rather than using Flynn to discredit Kerner, the Home Office people decide Flynn can be a more moderate alternative to Kerner. They begin to dictate his articles, script his appearances on talk shows, write his speeches, and develop his PowerPoint presentations. What doesn’t come across well is why Flynn, who has liberal leanings, agrees to act the part of a reactionary. None of the typical counterintelligence reasons are there—money, blackmail, a cleared criminal record, family held hostage, etc. The only possible reason is that Flynn’s motivation is patriotic, but Flynn’s behavior doesn’t convince me of that.

As a result of the Home Office’s manipulation of him, misadventure follows Flynn everywhere. His house gets fire-bombed. He’s blown-up, but survives, during an appearance on British TV where a trio of lefties do nothing but call him a Nazi. Indeed, the extreme right wingers come across in Weimar Vibes as having more depth than the leftists, who, in Rowan’s tale, are no more than name-calling, establishment toadies.

Flynn also elicits the worst from women—they either seduce him or attack him, sometimes both, which makes the women characters in this story shallow. It seems Flynn believes women universally use false rape charges against men they disagree with. Flynn fears this from almost every woman of opposing views he encounters, and the one woman who articulates the false charge, he did assault, though not sexually, by shoving her head in a toilet. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to believe her actions were worse than Flynn’s.

Though he claims to still love his mental-case ex, Flynn is in love with a friend’s wife. That doesn’t stop him from having anger sex with a house guest or fantasizing about then sleeping with his Home Office handler. When Flynn finally consummates his lust for his friend’s wife, the language is that of an adolescent male: “I’m on the carpet and Julia’s smiling down at me. [sic] Her glorious breasts descend like archangels from paradise.” Yeah, had to read that a couple of times to make sure that’s what it said.

Up to the point of Flynn’s recruitment and infiltration of Kerner’s inner circle, I found this a mis-punctuated but believable story. Then, all of a sudden, Flynn is in demand, advising Prime Ministers and Presidents. That was too much of a leap. Then, there were a couple of other things that didn’t sit well with me.

For example, Flynn’s therapist is named McVeigh. An American audience won’t be able to accept a therapist whose name is the same as the worst American domestic terrorist in history. I flinched every time I read the name. Also, after the bomb attack at the British TV studio, Flynn is guarded by a “cop with an AK-47.” I wondered about that choice of weapon by the British police, so I Googled “weapons used by the British police.” They prefer H&K carbines and automatic rifles (as do many American and European police forces). All right, I’ll concede, perhaps, Home Office had hired a “security consultant” whose weapon of choice was an AK-47 or Flynn didn’t know a Kalashnikov from a Heckler and Koch. But still.

Rowan wrote Weimar Vibes in first person present, which I find hard to sustain (as a writer or reader) through a novel-length work. Rowan mixes his tenses on occasion, and Flynn’s point of view sometimes becomes too omniscient—especially where women’s lustful thoughts about him are concerned. Also, at times you just can’t tell whether Flynn is thinking or speaking, since Rowan frequently misses an open or close quote. 

I eventually got over the missing Oxford commas (aka Harvard commas, aka serial commas) in Weimar Vibes because Rowan is British. Oddly enough, the Oxford comma isn’t standard usage in the U.K. However, a comma before the “and” connecting two, independent clauses is. Mr. Rowan leaves that out, also, as he does the periods after Mr. and Mrs. or quotation marks on numerous occasions. Then, there were the single ‘quotes’ instead of the proper double “quotes” around dialogue. For a former editor, such things detract from the appreciation of the story.

All of which is too bad, because Weimar Vibes is, as I said, a story that can serve as a warning to those who think the extreme right wing anywhere has a point. An editor or, at the least, a copyeditor would have made this good story a great one. Rowan’s writing is very visual, and he can incorporate or extrapolate both history and current events into his story seamlessly. His just-in-the-future Britain was spot-on reminiscent of Weimar Germany, and the parallel continues throughout the novel to the very end.

Yet, as England is crumbling around him, Flynn has dinner with his lover Julia, and they talk about whether to go to the Caribbean or India. I wanted to like Rudi Flynn, but, after a while, I couldn’t sympathize with him. Whether it was his narrow-minded view of women or his inability to stand up to his capricious Home Office handlers, I don’t know. I felt he—and Rowan—had something important to say, but I grew tired of supplying the proper punctuation in my head.

Some indie authors think a good story will shine through bad grammar or lack of proper punctuation, but that’s a pipe dream. Even if you’re not a former editor, a reader wants a packaged story—both well-written and aesthetically pleasing. If indie authors want to have their work appreciated by a mainstream audience, then that work has to be in a state where the audience can’t tell whether it was indie or traditionally published.

So, if lack of punctuation or “loosing their jobs” doesn’t bother you (but I hope they do), you’ll probably find Weimar Vibes a less frustrating read than I did.

I live for your constructive comments.

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