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 Berlins sex and drug trade, the rise of Hitlers 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 Hoffners 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 celebrateand contend with.
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 emptynot 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 ...
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 (973 words).
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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