Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Scarlatti Inheritance by Robert Ludlum

The Scarlatti Inheritance describes the actions of Ulster Scarlatti who joins forces with the Nazis on the eve of World War II.  Scarlatti seeks to use his finances to help Hitler's rise to power in Germany.  His schemes are thwarted by agent Mathew Canfield who forms a strange alliance with Ulster's mother, Elizabeth, and wife.

The story begins in Washington during World War II, when word is received that an elite member of the Nazi High Command is willing to defect and divulge information that will shorten the war. But his defection entails the release of the ultra-top-secret file on the Scarlatti Inheritance --- a file whose contents will destroy many of the Western world's greatest and most illustrious reputations if they are made known.  The story flashes back to the turn of the century and tells the story of a corrupt American soldier, his billionaire mother, and an accountant-agent working for the US Government.

The roots of the Scarlatti fortune began with the immigrant Giovanni Scarlatti who used his engineering genius to improve operations at his future father-in-law's manufacturing plant.  Scarlatti married Elizabeth Wyckham and the wedded skills helped them build a fortune in the paper industry.  Unfortunately, Giovanni died and left a widow and three teenage sons.  Elizabeth's financial expertise continued to grow the Scarlatti empire. She also changed the family name to Scarlett to make it more acceptable in American society and business.  From  her headquarters in New York City, she ruled her American organization.

Her sons are a disappointment. They lacked their parent's genius, and Ulster was, in her words, "You possess a great deal of arrogance but you have nothing --- absolutely nothing --- to be arrogant about!"  The youngest son, Roland, died on his first day of World War I.   His brothers planned to revenge him, but Elizabeth did not want both boys to risk being killed.  She ordered Chancellor to remain at home and allowed Ulster to enlist.   During the last days of the war Ulster deviously constructed a situation that earned him a decoration for bravery.  More importantly, he met a German officer named Gregor Strasser. Their chance meeting created a new identity for Ulster who took on the name Heinrich Kroeger.

After the war, Heinrich Kroeger/Ulster Scarlett returns to America. He uses his status as a war hero to do precisely as he wished. He forms alliances and studies the family's business.  His German friend Strasser is active in the new Nazi Party and enlists Kroeger's help in financing its growth.  He marries Janet Saxon, a hard-drinking, pregnant socialite.  He seems serious about his interest in world-scale finance, but the reason for that becomes clear when he disappears, taking with him bonds and stock worth several hundreds of millions of dollars. Elizabeth is confused, and so is an obscure American Government office in the Department of the Interior, Group Twenty, that assigns a forensic account Mathew Canfield to examine the situation.  Canfield links Ulster's disappearance to a phony liquidation of bonds in Stockholm. When Elizabeth travels to Europe to follow her son's trace, Group Twenty assigns Canfield to accompany her.  After an attempt is made on her life, Canfield reveals the real reason for his travel and they agree to form a bond of convenience.  Together they unravel the mystery of Ulster's disappearance and his plans to finance a new Reich.

This book is hardly in the class of Ludlum's Bourne novels.  The worldwide conspiracy theme is familiar to fans.  We have a strange romance between Ulster Scarlatti's wife, who is hardly the noble suffering wife and mother, and Agent Canfield.  Canfield has his own agenda  in the plot and is often at odds with his superiors in the Agency.  The best part of the book is Canfield's relationship with Elizabeth Scarlatti.  Canfield is co-conspirator, protector, agent, and surrogate son.  The book may appeal to fans of the Nazi era conspiracy novel.

The book's conclusion left me unsatisfied. Perhaps I wanted a more complex ending. The "relationship" between Ulster and his son is strange.  Stranger still is the reason behind the meeting of Canfield and Scarlett in 1944.  I admire the way that Ludlum drives his readers through his novels.  It's a style that I try to emulate in my writing.   I pushed through the book, wanting more but finding less. For that reason, I give The Scarlatti Inheritance...

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