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The Nero Decree [Kindle Edition]

Gregory Lee
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)

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Book Description

As the Nazis come to power in Germany, a violent argument over a secret key causes young Johann to lose the only parent he has left. Worse, it is his half-brother, Dieter, who commits this horrific act of betrayal. Although their fragile family bonds are irrevocably destroyed, the brothers’ paths are destined to cross again.

Years later, Hitler’s army is on the verge of defeat as Soviet forces cross into Germany. Hiding in plain sight, Johann works to save German lives, secretly despising the Führer to whom Dieter has sworn his allegiance. Yet now it is Dieter who holds a terrible secret that threatens not just Johann and his family, but an entire city unsuspecting of the enemy within. As Germany falls before the Allies’ merciless advance, Johann and Dieter are locked in their own furious battle. Who will be left standing in the wreckage of their homeland? The fate of not only the brothers themselves, but the entire city of Berlin, rests in their hands.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Half-brothers Dieter and Thomas Meier couldn’t be more different. Twenty-year-old Dieter is a member of the paramilitary SA, and he denounces his professor father as an enemy of the state. Father is taken to a camp, and diffident Thomas, just 17, leaves home forever. Fast-forward to April 1945. Dieter is a war-hardened SS officer, and Thomas is a doctor treating soldiers wounded by the advancing Russians. They meet again when Dieter is seriously wounded, and the once-diffident Thomas realizes he must attempt to thwart Dieter’s mission: the effort to “erase history” of the Final Solution and the transmission of the Nero Decree, Hitler’s order to destroy everything that might be of use to the Allies. Although Thomas’ metamorphosis into a man of action isn’t well explained, Lee’s novel offers a brilliant portrayal of the utter chaos of the final weeks of the Third Reich, the horrors of Nazism, the German people’s well-warranted fear of the brutality of the Russian onslaught, and the privations suffered by all Germans. The Nero Decree is stunningly bleak but difficult to put down.


“This is anything but a standard World War II thriller—it’s a coruscating yet deeply involving read in which Lee turns the genre on its head, not least by emphasising what civilians go through in a time of war…Well-plotted, intelligent and with moral purpose, this is a great thriller.” —Time Out London

"Lee’s braiding of fact with authorial invention might recall Ian Fleming...But actually there’s shades of David Nicholls in there too: this is muscular prose, but marbled with empathy. And it is precisely because it has heart, that Lee’s depiction of historical repression is able to touch a nerve in the present." —GQ Magazine

“Lee has written a suspenseful, exciting mystery. He describes the chaos at the end of the war with compassion and frightening detail. This is a cannot-put-down book with plot twists and devastating revelations.” —Historical Novels Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 1859 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 147780871X
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (November 5, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C4ZW9NK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,256 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I’ve read a number of books about World War II, and more than a few of them have been suspense novels set in the Third Reich. This current entry is by an author who is new to me, anyway. His name is Gregory Lee; that’s a pen name used by the guy who edits Wired magazine. For some reason he can’t be himself when he writes suspense novels.
So the book starts interestingly, in 1934. Two half-brothers are always in conflict, one a Nazi and the other completely opposed to the Party. He’s the younger one, and both of them live with his father. As the book opens, the older Nazi brother has the father sent to a concentration camp, but his younger step-brother slips away with the key to his father’s safety deposit box, and vanishes.
Fast forward more than a decade, to the last days of World War II. The older brother is now an SS officer, and he’s been wounded on the Eastern Front. When he’s brought into a field hospital, 75 miles or so from Berlin, the doctor who is assigned to treat him is his long-lost half-brother, with a new name and identity. Things spin out of control from there, with the younger brother trying to escape the older, and the older pursuing stubbornly, from the hospital right on to Berlin.
The author does a very good job with the historical aspects of this story, at least as far as I could tell. He knows what a Panzerfaust is, what a Kubelwagen is, and so forth. He gets the SS ranks right, and can describe what a bombing raid feels, sounds, and looks like, as if he were there. His portrait of Berlin at the end of the war, with the bank manager trying to keep up standards as the world crumbles around him, and the civil servants trudge off to their jobs almost as the Soviet T-34s rumble down the city streets, is quite authentic in feel, and very well-done. The whole of the book felt like early Ken Follett, and frankly it was even a bit better at times. Highly recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Gregory Lee's "The Nero Decree" is an old fashioned entertainment that pits two brothers against one another in war torn Germany. One brother is portrayed as evil incarnate and one is a noble hero. I think Lee's intent was to showcase how the events leading to WWII could affect and divide families. The introduction presents how the two boys are on different paths. In just a few pages, though, one has committed an atrocity so heinous, it sets the other off on a brand new life to escape the horrors of his current predicament. Of course, this new world is certainly filled with unpleasantness as well as he serves at the pleasure of the Reich when the odds against Germany seem insurmountable. As escapism, "The Nero Decree" is a perfectly entertaining story that is easy enough to like. However, it doesn't play as particularly real and that sometimes detracted from my enjoyment of the scenario.

As the power of the Reich is ascending, brother Johann and his pacifist father are appalled by the changes they see coming. Half-brother Dieter, however, is embracing the regime. As the two boys diverge onto very different paths, Dieter rises to impressive rank. Johann, meanwhile, just wants to survive the war and be reunited with his family. Dieter has been haunted by a legacy his father left, and Johann is committed to the idea that he'll never see his brother again. As fate would have it, though, the two are reunited in a battlefield hospital. Not only does Johann have to face the sibling he loathes, he becomes embroiled in a plot whose repercussions are pretty astonishing. What's an ordinary guy to do? We'll never know because Johann transforms into something else entirely. Before long, Johann is perpetrating a series of incredibly noble acts with superhuman finesse.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but Implausible December 21, 2013
By John E
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author did a great job of setting the scene of a crumbling Berlin during WWII, and the threat of the Russian Army poised for invasion. I felt I was there, and could feel the interplay between the gestapo and the desperate citizens. The characters were well drawn and kept me engaged. The reason I only gave the book 3 stars was that if felt that the motivation of the protagonist was implausible for his actions...I just couldn't quite buy into his undertaking the risks that he did. I can't say more without revealing too much of the book. However, if you are looking for a good WWII story that puts you into the environment of those last few months of the Third Reich, I would definitely recommend this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Entertaining 4 plus 1/2 a star November 7, 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Nero Decree is a fictional book based around the order given my Adolph Hitler in the final days of the World War II. The decree was simple. Destroy what remained of Germany so the Allied and Soviet armies could not utilize the what remained of the German war machine, or in this case whatever civilian apparatus was remaining in what remained of the German nation.

The writing is brisk. The story is told in a fashion where the reader is placed in the waning moments of the war. I felt like I was placed in Berlin, breathing the debris while tasting ash. Two brothers are pitted against each other. One a fanatical Nazi, the other a man drawn into the war not of his own volition, trying to protect the family he left behind.

Family secrets are revealed, twists and turns that will leave the reader saying, just one more chapter before bed. Any reader that enjoys World War II fiction will be hard pressed not to like this book.

4 1/2 stars.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read
Interesting history, great imagery and suspenseful plot. The writing is good but not great.
Published 1 month ago by Jeffrey Osowski
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
exciting from start to finish!
Published 3 months ago by Beverly J. Conner
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent reading!
Published 3 months ago by Karen Gonzales
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
A mediocre book,
Published 3 months ago by johnr45
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Whole family enjoyed it.
Published 5 months ago by KDG
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book if you want to stay up all night finishing it.
Published 5 months ago by Grandon
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick easy read
It's an OK novel... Interesting concept. Thr characters were drawn well. It the plot was a little obvious. Quick easy read
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story that has enough connection to happenings today to ...
Excellent story that has enough connection to happenings today to really pull you into the story; good twists and turns.
Published 6 months ago by suzanne peters
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
I literally couldn't put this book down. Riveting. I felt I was in Berlin living through the horror. Very well written.
Published 6 months ago by Helga
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent World War II novel.
Excellent story and well written. Gives you the feeling that you are in Berlin at the end of the war. Very good ending to this book.
Published 6 months ago by Gerald Nisker
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More About the Author

Gregory Lee is the pen name of Greg Williams, an award-winning journalist, author, and screenwriter who currently serves as executive editor of Wired magazine. Now based in London, he spent a decade working in publishing in New York City. The Nero Decree is his fifth novel. His screenplay, Enemy Within - co-written with Matthew McAllester - is currently in development. He is the cofounder of geolocated storytelling iOS app Mylondonstory.

A native Londoner, his motivation for writing The Nero Decree, is explained below:

On September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked London. The assault by 950 aircraft was the first of 57 consecutive nights on which the capital was bombed. My mother's family were beneath the ordinance as it fell, most of them sheltering on the platform of Bounds Green tube station in north London. But my grandfather, Harold Newell, was elsewhere. He was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service, a civil defence group mobilised in 1938 in anticipation of hostilities. Every night, he and the rest of his crew would leave the fire station in Bowes Park in the borough of Haringey and drive their trucks towards the blazing parts of the city.
The area around St Paul's cathedral came under particularly heavy bombardment, with thousands of tonnes of incendiary devices being dropped onto the narrow, complex streets, some of which dated from the Middle Ages. My grandfather is quoted in the book Firefighters and the Blitz as saying: "I knew if St Paul's went, then we'd all be in trouble." He wasn't talking about himself and his fellow firemen - he meant London. The city faced an existential crisis.

Contemporary reports describe walls of flame hundreds of feet high, collapsing buildings, billowing smoke and embers, the roaring of plane engines overhead, the thunder of anti-aircraft guns and bombs raining from the sky. But my grandfather - an autodidact who had left school before he was a teenager - was a survivor, making it through the deprivation of the thirties, he had chanced his arm as an amateur wrestler, and wasn't a stranger to conflict, having been one of the thousands who fought running battles on Cable Street in the east end of London to stop Oswald Mosley and his fascist organisation marching through a Jewish neighbourhood. Harold was resolute. He didn't grumble. He took his chances.

He travelled to Coventry and Liverpool while the Heinkels, Junkers and Dorniers did their worst. In the north of England in 1940, so family legend has it, he cooked his crew a Christmas lunch of sausages in an upturned trashcan lid heated by still smoldering embers from a raid the night before. Like many of his generation he bore danger and adversity with stoicism and expectancy. Things were never that bad, as they had always been much worse.

One night the bombs were coming down so heavily that he and the rest of his crew were trapped in a street by buildings that had collapsed around them. There was no way out and the heat from the flames was overwhelming. The group took a snap decision: they would escape through the sewers. They removed a manhole cover and climbed down into a network of tunnels that had been constructed by Victorians. Days afterwards, Harold was called into the station chief's office. There was a man in the room he didn't recognise who wore a smart suit and maintained a patrician air. The commander showed him something that was laid out on his desk: a Nazi newspaper. My grandfather was shown a photo - the fire truck that he and his crew had had to abandon in order to escape the inferno. He was told that the caption accompanying it informed German readers that the bombing of London was so successful that it had broken the resolve of its residents; even fire crews had given up hope and were abandoning their vehicles.

Each of the crew members were questioned: had any of them taken a photo of the fire truck before climbing into the sewer? The question was preposterous: none of the men owned a camera, let alone would have risked their lives taking a photo in such circumstances. The matter was laid to rest, although my grandfather long pondered the provenance of the photo: how had he not seen a Nazi spy taking a picture of the truck that night?

My book The Nero Decree is set in Berlin four years after the London blitz finished, when German civilians - largely starving and war-weary - were subject to constant bombing by the RAF and USAF. The desperation of the situation was exacerbated by the Nazi regime, which took its own destructive measures with total disregard for civilians. While The Nero Decree is a work of fiction, some of the events in the book are based on fact.

The Demolitions on Reich Territory was an executive order passed by Hitler on March 19, 1945, aimed at denying the Allies all German infrastructure. It became known colloquially as the Nero Decree. Acting under this order, the SS flooded Friedrichstraße U-Bahn station on April 25 by planting explosives on the ceiling of the north-south axis. The station was said to be full of injured soldiers and civilians. Due to the chaotic conditions in Berlin at the end of the war, there are no records of how many lives were lost. What is known is that the flooding affected sixty-three kilometers of tunnels and twenty-five stations - one-third of the Berlin U-Bahn system. A 1990 study by the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt (the Armed Forces Military History Research Office) estimated that between 360,000 and 370,000 German civilians were killed by strategic bombing during the Second World War during which sixteen square kilometers of Berlin were reduced to little more than rubble.

One evening towards the end of the war, Harold held my infant mother up to show her an armada of RAF bombers heading to Germany. He knew as well as anyone the hellish nature of the aircrafts' payloads. Before the decade was out, he would see for himself: he and my grandmother joined the first postwar organised tour - a coach trip - to Germany from the UK. Over the following years they travelled to several of the most-heavily bombed cities, including Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin. Harold never talked much about why he liked it there, he just kept going back.

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