The Budapest Protocol, by Adam Lebor
Sometimes a journalist comes across something so powerful that it seems bigger than the project he’s researching. Usually it’s put aside to serve as the basis for a future project, a magazine article or another nonfiction book.
Sometimes it takes such a grip on the writer’s imagination that there’s only one way to go. The novel. I know, because it’s how I turned from Middle East correspondent to the author of Palestinian crime fiction. Journalism seemed so limited by comparison, so unlikely to grab people and tell them “Pay attention, this really matters” the way a novel can.
That’s what happened to Adam Lebor in 1996 when he was researching his acclaimed “Hitler’s Secret Bankers: How Switzerland Profited from Nazi Genocide.” He stumbled upon a World War II intelligence dossier addressed to the US Secretary of State. It detailed a French agent’s report on German contingency plans for the economic takeover of Europe, should the Third Reich fail.
Lebor asked himself the question: what if the industrialists who intended to found this Fourth “economic” Reich had tried to do so, after the war? What if they had succeeded? (“What if,” as Stephen King notes in his “On Writing,” is the best place from which to start a thriller.)
From his vantage point as a correspondent based in Budapest, Lebor was able to see the massive inroads amounting more or less to takeover of post-Soviet economies by German and Austrian conglomerates. Add to that the growing centralization of the European Union and the introduction of its single currency forcing the economies of most of Europe to toe a single line, and you start to see why the Red House Report gripped him so.
The result is the chillingly real thriller “The Budapest Protocol,” published in the UK this month.
Alex Farkas, a local journalist, uncovers the economic conspiracy, which – as the novel unfolds – is focused on the election campaign of one of the conspirators as President of Europe (a post that many Brussels types would gladly see become reality). Farkas discovers plans for a new Holocaust against the Gypsies, which with the rise in these poor economic days of a neo-Nazi right-wing in Hungary is another of the novel’s moments of eerie realism.
What really drives Farkas, though, is the sinister murder of his grandfather, a survivor of the Budapest ghetto and a former dissident. That gives the novel the personal underpinning that elevates it above pure conspiracy theory. In fact, it makes it a first-rate thriller comparable to Robert Harris’s “Fatherland.” The novel reminds us that the politics of Europe remains more charged than the dull image the Brussels technocrats have lulled us into.
I’ll bet you’re sorry now you didn’t vote three weeks ago in the Euro elections. You will be after you read this novel.