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The Alphabet House  By  cover art

The Alphabet House

By: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Narrated by: Graeme Malcolm
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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

"[Narrator Graeme] 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 listeners say about The Alphabet House

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

71 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

68 people found this helpful

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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 people found this helpful

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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.

21 people found this helpful

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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 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Just can't finish this book.

Would you try another book from Jussi Adler-Olsen and/or Graeme Malcolm?

I might download a sample.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The narration was monotonic, but not intolerable. I don't believe the narrator had a lot to get excited about or work with.

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

No.

Any additional comments?

The first half of the book held my interest. The third quarter did not hold my interest in the characters. I simply didn't care about any of them. And I can't finish this book, and would not recommend it. I felt that a lesser author took over the writing after the first half.
Use your credit on something else.

15 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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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.

14 people found this 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 people found this helpful

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The Grating Escape


It's as if the introduction never ends. This is an interminable one act play. Adler-Olsen's books are frequently strengthened by protagonists embattled by melancholic turmoil. I've always put it down to the months of days with only fleeting, yet frigid sunlight in his home country. In Alphabet House he's rid himself of the pesky need to write a gripping mystery (his strength) and instead he's penned a wallow in depression of spirits and gloom. This book hasn't a vision of hopelessness, nope it's an obsession with the stuff.

About sixty percent of the way into this thing I cranked the speed up to 200%, a handful of chapters later I started to just skip whole hunks of the book, and yet wherever I stopped the cast made no progress against the syrupy gloom encasing them.

So finally I punched up the last chapter hoping for some dim light on the horizon, you know, as if the first glow of Spring arrived in the Scandinavian north country? But nope. You want to feel really bad? Or maybe if you are already feeling bad: you want to feel worse? Well hey, get this book and prepare to take a never ending train ride to hell.

I'm returning it.

Oh, and Graeme Malcolm can't save this thing, in fact, it's dragged him down with it.


7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A friendship tortured by war: an outstanding novel

Would you listen to The Alphabet House again? Why?

Yes, after a while. Adler-Olsen gives us a richly written and psychological complex story of a long term relationship.

What did you like best about this story?

Several things: the thrilling first part in which two downed British pilots escape death only to find themselves in a deeper hell; Adler Olsen's rich and descriptions; his complex characters.

Have you listened to any of Graeme Malcom’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I don't believe I have but I certainly will look for his narrations again. He does a marvelous job of talking through different characters (male and female) and different accents. A superb performance.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes but it's too long for that -- fortunately.

Any additional comments?

Adler Olsen has always been a favorite author of mine. But with Alphabet House he has outdone himself, scaling to new heights.

7 people found this helpful