A Concentration-Camp Noir


The novel Block 11 starts out like a noir thriller. In Brooklyn, New York, in the present day, an elderly man and woman set their breakfast table. The table is immaculate, with ten place settings. They dine alone.

Then we’re taken back in time to a concentration camp in the middle of the World War II. Ten prisoners are rounded up randomly for execution, but at the last minute, the orders are changed: Only one is to be executed, and the other nine are to return to their work duties. In a horrific twist, that very night the ten prisoners are required to select who will die.

Though it’s set in a concentration camp, in Block 11 the everyday environment of death and torture and mind-games takes a backseat to the mystery and drama of the characters themselves. In deciding which of them will die, the characters trade stories about their lives. One is a gay man who chose the wrong lover. Another is an opportunist who, thus far, has saved himself by conning others–and yet another of the prisoners is the former victim of one of his cons.

Over their night-long ordeal, secrets are confessed, stories are shared, and each character, in one way or another, reckons with his or her guilt or shame. Does that mean any of them deserve to die? Of course not. But the story of electing who to kill, complete with its surprise ending, keeps us guessing until the final pages.

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