Summary and book reviews of Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb

Shadow and Light

A Novel

By Jonathan Rabb

Shadow and Light
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Mar 2009,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2010,
    384 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Joanne Collings

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About this Book

Book Summary

Berlin, between the two world wars. When an executive at the renowned Ufa film studios is found dead floating in his office bathtub, it falls to Nikolai Hoffner, a chief inspector in the Kriminalpolizei, to investigate. With the help of Fritz Lang (the German director) and Alby Pimm (leader of the most powerful crime syndicate in Berlin), Hoffner finds his case taking him beyond the world of film and into the far more treacherous landscape of Berlin’s sex and drug trade, the rise of Hitler’s Brownshirts (the SA), and the even more astonishing attempts by onetime monarchists to rearm a post-Versailles Germany. Being swept up in the case are Hoffner’s new lover, an American talent agent for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and his two sons: Georg, who has dropped out of school to work at Ufa, and Sascha, his angry, older son, who, unknown to his father, has become fully entrenched in the new German Workers Party as the aide to its Berlin leader, Joseph Goebbels.

When we last met Hoffner, it was 1919, and he had taken on the disappearance and death of Rosa Luxembourg in Rosa, a novel the critic John Leonard hailed as “a ghostly noir that could have been conspired at by Raymond Chandler and André Malraux.” Shadow and Light is equally brilliant and atmospheric, and even harder to put down or shake off. Like Joseph Kanon or Alan Furst, Rabb magically fuses a smart, energetic narrative with layers of fascinating, vividly documented history. The result is a stunning historical thriller, created by a writer to celebrate—and contend with.

Chapter One
1927

They say it is rare to have good reason to leave Berlin. In the summer you have Wannsee, where the beaches are powdered and cool, and where for a few pfennigs even a clerk and his girl can manage a cabana for the day. The cold months bring the Ice Palast up near the Oranienburger Gate, or a quick trip out to Luna Park for the rides and amusements, where a bit of cocoa and schnapps can keep a family warm for the duration. And always there is that thickness of life in the east, where whiskey (if you're lucky) and flesh (if not too old) play back and forth in a careless game of half-conscious decay. No reason, then, to leave the city with so much to keep a hand occupied.

And yet she was empty—not truly empty, of course, but thin to the point of concern. A phenomenon had descended on Berlin in early February, something no one could control or predict. Naturally they could explain it, but only in the language of high science and complexity. For the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Rabb is a master at creating atmosphere, of firmly moving the reader to the time and place he has created... A lesser writer could easily be crushed under the layers of detail and plot, setting, and character; Rabb juggles them all so smoothly, the only question the reader wants answered is "what happens next?" or perhaps, "why?"   (Reviewed by Joanne Collings).

Full Review Members Only (1261 words).

Media Reviews
New York Times - Joshua Hammer

... the biggest problem with “Shadow and Light” is the plot. Despite a brisk beginning, the narrative soon becomes bogged down by co-conspirators, sinister corporate entities, technical details and extraneous subplots.

The Washington Post - Wendy Smith

Rabb writes so well and the mood he creates is so haunting that occasional lapses into noir cliches -- a femme fatale whose betrayals grow steadily more predictable, the inevitable confrontation with an untouchable bigwig -- are more jarring than they would be in a less accomplished novel.

Booklist

There’s plenty of Weimar decadence on view here, but it’s the fascinating slice of film history overlaid with a sense of the gathering storm that gives the novel its punch. That and Hoffner himself, a noir hero in every way, from his unquenchable thirst for potables to the inevitability with which he finds himself caught in the riptide of history.

Kirkus Reviews

Rabb's prose can occasionally be provokingly gnomic, but as usual, he has a good story to tell and most readers will bear with him contentedly.

Bookpage

Rabb to call on his true strengths as a writer, most notably his atmospheric evocation of time and place. The city itself is an important character in the book, and Weimar Berlin is brilliantly portrayed in all its gritty decadence and postwar opportunism. . . Shadow and Light is an entertaining book that demands a bit more concentration than most books in the genre, but the effort pays off.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Both a first-rate historical novel and a singularly artful crime noir.

Publishers Weekly.

Starred Review. Well-conceived cameos by director Fritz Lang and actor Peter Lorre add to the intrigue.

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Beyond the Book

Shadow and Light Stands Alone
Don't worry if you haven't read Rosa, Rabb's first book in this planned trilogy. Though Shadow and Light alludes to events chronicled in the first book, it holds up well as a stand-alone novel, and won't spoil the first if you choose to read them out of order.

The Shadow Side of Film in Weimar Berlin
Nikolai Hoffner is, he admits, not a big fan of the cinema, so meeting studio executives and the well-known director Fritz Lang does not much impress him. Lang's immediate friendliness, however, does have an effect on the jaded police detective. [Lang] "looked at Hoffner as if the two had had this conversation a thousand times: the intimacy was oddly engaging." If Hoffner hasn't spent much time ...

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