BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is based on a true story that I heard as a Yom Kippur sermon at Middlebury College about Ernst Techow, one of three fascist assassins responsible for the 1922 murder of the highest ranking Jew in Weimar Germany, Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. While on trial for his life, Ernst receives an offer of forgiveness from the mother of the man he helped murder if he repents. In prison, his cell-mate, Puck challenges Ernst's fascistic beliefs and he begins a harrowing journey of redemption. BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is a cautionary tale - how Germany's Weimar democracy became the Third Reich, how ordinary people became complicit in extraordinary crimes. It is also the love story of Ernst and Lisa – childhood sweethearts and star-crossed lovers.
“This is a brilliantly-written tale of internal struggle and redemption in a time of great social and political upheaval. The author does a chillingly good job of illustrating just how seductive the nationalist message was in a beaten and humiliated Germany, how it used and twisted values like patriotism, loyalty and honor to win over people who otherwise might have lived out their lives as ordinary, decent, humane people. Before the Court of Heaven is a powerful, intensely vivid look at Europe between the World Wars, and one man’s attempt to make sense of his life, his deeds, and their meaning, to himself and to others.”
– IndieReader 5-star Review
“Jack Mayer has written a strong, affecting novel that offers an arresting portrait of a deeply troubled time. His evocations of Ernst Werner Techow and other historical figures are beautifully and thoughtfully rendered. He has a remarkable grasp of period details, and he used these details to create an atmosphere of dense particularity and clarity. This is a story of immense human failure and touching redemption, and it stands among the finer recent portrayals in fiction of the most troubling era of modern history. Mayer’s novel should have a widely sympathetic readership. I recommend Before the Court of Heaven whole- heartedly.”
“Jack Mayer’s Before the Court of Heaven is a captivating read. Loosely based on the historical figure of Ernst Werner Techow, who conspired in the assassination of Weimar Germany’s first foreign minister Walther Rathenau, Mayer’s novel takes its readers through the most tumultuous and painful decades of German history as its tormented protagonist develops. Growing increasingly skeptical of right wing promises for a stronger and better future, Mayer’s Techow lives a live that could have happened at the time, a life that leads him from right wing terrorism to inner exile in Northern Africa to redemption through acts of selfless support for Europe’s refugee Jews. At times supporting basso continuo, at times gripping counter-point, Techow’s tragic love story with his childhood friend Lisa provides an additional layer of humanity that recommends the novel to the silver screen. Mayer’s characters and their stories, though mostly fictional, make the early 20th century come alive, and they stay with you long after you have finished their story. A great read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.”
– Bettina Matthias, Professor of German, Middlebury College
“Before the Court of Heaven is an engrossing novel that compels you to keep reading to find out how the story ends. Jack Mayer’s impressive skill as a writer allows him to seamlessly weave an engrossing, fictional account of one man’s journey into a well-researched and nuanced portrayal of life in Weimar Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Far beyond a simple page-turner, however, the book is also an impressive rendering of the historical realities of a dark era and the real uncertainties of the people living through it.”
– Rebecca Ayako Bennette, Director of Jewish Studies and Associate Professor of History (German), Middlebury College