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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of Alan Furst, the number one international best-selling author delivers his first stand-alone novel, a psychological thriller set in World War II Nazi Germany and 1970s England.

British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young have been chosen to conduct a special photo-reconnaissance mission near Dresden, Germany. Intelligence believes the Nazis are building new factories that could turn the tide of the war. When their plane is shot down, James and Bryan know they will be executed if captured. With an enemy patrol in pursuit, they manage to jump aboard a train reserved for senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front.

In a moment of desperation, they throw two patients off the train and take their places, hoping they can escape later. But their act is too convincing and they end up in the Alphabet House, a mental hospital located far behind enemy lines, where German doctors subject their patients to daily rounds of shock treatments and experimental drugs. The pilots' only hope of survival is to fake insanity until the war ends, but their friendship and courage are put to the ultimate test when James and Bryan realize they aren't the only ones in the Alphabet House feigning madness.

Millions of fans around the world - and in this country - know Adler-Olsen for his award-winning Department Q series. His first stand-alone, The Alphabet House, is the perfect introduction for those who have yet to discover his riveting work.

©2015 Jussi Adler-Olsen (P)2014 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Malcolm is in that rarified group of British storytellers who seem to disappear--as if nothing stood between the listener and the story. His characterizations are subtle, and even the villains have a sinister charm." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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  • Story

Don't start Adler-Olsen here

I accidentally started Adler-Olsen's Department Q series with Book 2 and I was so glad I did because when I later listened to Book 1, the narrator made me crazy and I had to read it in print. Having read/listened to the Dept. Q books available on Audible, I eagerly picked up The Alphabet House and there is a lot to admire here, but it is not nearly as satisfying to listen to as the Department Q books. This book was first published in Danish in 1997, about a decade before the first of the Dept Q books and you can definitely see the change that 10 years made in Adler-Olsen's writing with the biggest difference being in the characterizations.

Brian and James are two English flyers shot down in World War II. They manage to escape capture and finesse their way into German military hospital to try to survive. Challenging under any circumstances, but especially tough when only James speaks German. The first part of the book detailing their travails in the mental ward of the SS hospital is fascinating and was clearly well researched, but then the book shifts 30 years and kind of loses its impetus and clarity. I found part 2 difficult to get through because it is fairly clear early on what will happen, but it takes a very long time to get there. Repeated threats to the protagonist might have been more suspenseful except that I didn't ever really connect with these characters. Former SS officers are the villains of the book and there is no subtlety in these guys - they are just plain evil to the core. There is more shading to the other characters, but I didn't relate to them or feel much for them. That stands in sharp contrast to the Department Q characters that I connected with almost immediately and am always happy to meet again in each subsequent book. Ultimately, The Alphabet House is quite interesting, but just not as satisfying as Adler-Olsen's other books.

Graeme Malcolm provided a nice narration of this book and did a great job with all the German names and places.

Ultimately, I am not sorry to have read The Alphabet House and if you are already an Adler-Olsen fan, you will probably like it. However, if you have not read this author yet, pick up Book Two of the Department Q series, The Absent One, first. It's a great book and a great audiobook and will give you a better idea of what Adler-Olsen can really do.

60 of 62 people found this review helpful

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Leaped before I looked. Happy I did.

I love the author's inspector Q series. I thought this was another in series. It is not. It is better. Highly plausible innovative theme that keeps you listening. With over 1000 books in my library I rarely find something that I would classify as innovative. This book is. Kudos to the author.

66 of 70 people found this review helpful

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  • Ann
  • BELTON, TX, United States
  • 03-06-15

Gripping and emotional tale of war and friendship

I stayed up until three AM through the twists and turns of a story so original, it shocked and saddened as well as compelled me to come to the understanding that sometimes healing with woundedness is still healing.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • JKO
  • Harlingen, TX United States
  • 06-05-15

Compelling Story

I have listened to all of the Department Q stories and I avoided this for a while thinking it couldn’t possibly be as good as those stories. Then I read that Adler-Olsen wrote this before he started the Dept. Q stories so I gave it a try. It’s a very different kind of story and hard to describe, but Adler-Olsen is such a good writer and Graeme Malcolm is such a good narrator, that I really enjoyed it. As the author says in the beginning, it’s not a war story. For me it was a story of how different people respond to the same situation and how that choice defines who and what they become. I couldn’t quit listening; I’ve read other reviews from people who didn’t much like it. At times it was hard to listen to, but then, at times life can be hard to live through. For me it was a compelling story that will stay with me for a while. I also thought it had a satisfactory and realistic ending.

The 4 stars are because the characters have different names throughout the novel and at times it was a little confusing. As with all of Adler-Olsen’s bad guys, the bad guys are a little one dimensional.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Carol
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 02-27-15

Another tour de force by Jussi.

The perversion of medical practice in that era combined with the conditions of war are deftly explored in this gripping thriller. Adler-Olsen is as good as anyone writing in this genre. Now, one hopes, we will hear more from Carl Morck, and soon.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim
  • Napa, CA, United States
  • 04-26-15

Psychological nightmare or a war story?

The Alphabet House AKA the ABC House begins with a preface which Danish author, Jusi Adler-Olsen says, “this is not a war book”. Which is true and not so true. The novel begins with two RAF bomber pilots, childhood friends flying a mission over Germany in 1944.Their plane crashes behind enemy lines—Trying to get away they jump on board a passing train. Where is the train headed and what kind of train is it? Mr. Olsen has many surprises, twisting this way and that. The psychological developments are horrendous and will keep you turning pages or listening with rapt attention. Better get the book and find out what happens to James & Bryan. As a personal aside I’d like to say you’ll never go wrong reading any of Mr. Olsen’s books; here is a series you’re sure to like beginning with the first book, The Keeper of Lost Causes: the first department Q novel. Each year I wait in anticipation for his next book. FYI: Jusi is pronounced u-see.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Depressing but well written WWII book

What did you like best about The Alphabet House? What did you like least?

well written, good character development

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

least interesting is that it covers 10+ months of a person in captivity... excruciating but very powerful

Do you think The Alphabet House needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

The last few chapters seemed very deus ex machina

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 03-01-15

Smart fiction with pitch-perfect narration.

I'm a Department Q fan - the series of more well-known books by Jussi Adler-Olsen. I was curious about how he would approach this one - a standalone - with its completely new cast of characters. I wondered if he could pull it off with the same level of mastery.

Short answer: yes, most definitely. In my opinion, he's one of the most skillful contemporary fiction writers around. Here he shows he can also write historical fiction with a deft hand. He just has it. He has a natural way of character interaction that rings true. This book held my interest from beginning to end. I thought about it when I wasn't listening.

And Graeme Malcom? What can I say. He has become one of my very favorite narrators. I never tire of listening to him. He's perfectly suited to this book just as he is to the Department Q series. It makes me think he could read anything and I'd listen to it - right there with Edoardo Ballerini and George Guidall.

There you have a perfect combo: Malcom's narration and Adler-Olsen's writing. For me this particular book was a great, credit-worthy selection ... exactly what you hope every book will be.

41 of 47 people found this review helpful

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Not his best work

It started off well. Part 1 was very good. Part 2 , however, dragged and meandered too much. My attention kept drifting. I guess I was expecting something more similar to a Ludlom or Higgins. Instead, we watched as a civilian matched wits with some less than daunting SS villains.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Kinda boring.

If it was a book I had bought to read I wouldn't have finished it. I struggled through and it was alright in the end.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful