Shadow and Light
FSG, Apr 2009, $26.00
In 1927 the German capital Berlin is a city filled with chaos and corruption in spite of its reputation of a place with no reason to ever leave. Within the craziness of a collapsing city and country, perhaps the only oasis of a functioning government agency is the Kriminalpolizei led by highly principled Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar “Chief Inspector” Nikolai Hoffner.
At Ufa Movie Studios, executive Herr Thyssen is found dead in his tub in what looks like a suicide. Leading the investigation, Hoffner decides the victim could not have killed himself as he finds evidence that a clever homicide was perpetuated to fool the “incompetent” cops. It might have worked if anyone but Hoffner was making the inquiry. To his surprise the investigator with a tendency to lose partners also finds his younger son working at the studio having quietly dropped out of school. Meanwhile on the case he looks at the deceased’s personal and business lives with a fine tooth comb, This scrutiny leads to the convergence of politics with industrial espionage, but not a killer and to Hoffner considering a tryst with visiting American MGM official Helen Coyle. At the same time the Brownshirted thugs of Goebbels who includes Hoffner’s oldest son as a loyal supporter beats up Jews, Communists and homosexuals for pleasure.
This strong German historical police procedural provides a profound sense of time and place as the audience will feel the beginning of a new darker more intense era. The story line grips readers with its fascinating look at Berlin as the Brownshirts are just starting to flex muscle and the Great Depression is in full swing here with many locals believing the unfair armistice being the cause. Hoffner is a quirky lead character as his wry comments and retorts provide further insight into the period while also working the case. SHADOW AND LIGHT is a terific 1920s Weimer Republic murder mystery.