Mystery / fictional drama
"Berlin, October 1933. Max Dienst has returned to the city he last knew as a student. He has been asked to cover the elections to the Reichstag. A colleague on the paper mentions the case of Geli Raubal, a young singer from Vienna who died in mysterious circumstances in the flat of her uncle. There is a botched death certificate but is it a hidden murder? Max thinks he may have a story, her uncle is the leader of a growing political party, a man who seeking to change Germany and Europe. Her uncle is Adolf Hitler. Berlin is also the city of his youth when he was in love with a young Russian communist and embroiled in all the new ideas of change and idealism. Ten years later Max is married to Rhiannon and a journalist for a respected newspaper. Rhiannon works at the British Embassy. She is approached by the mysterious Sid Khan, he may have information that would be useful to her husband. Max was a member of the communist party in his youth. Max wants to find the truth in a time when everyone has their own version, but are there secrets that are best forgotten?"
A very good depiction of how strong, almost blind adherence to seductive, yet irrational political ideology of both left and right can divide families in desperate straits and undermine friendships.
A polarised country with little history of democracy and rule by consent, 1930s Germany was disintegrating amidst economic and social breakdown, the pull of Prussian conservatism and the rise of ideologues. The author’s research is impeccable in this respect; she shows us the day-to-day tension and insecurity very well. Poverty, soup kitchens, high unemployment, casual violence and shortages contrast with people trying to do their best to keep some sense of normality in an environment when freedom and civilised values are in retreat.
Investigative reporter Max is thoughtful and persistent, but rather naive, given that he grew up in a capital city after the cataclysm of the First World War and the instability that followed it. He’s also swum in the shark-infested political waters of London in the 1920s and 30s. I would have thought his sense of self-preservation would have been higher especially as he now has a wife to care for. Rhiannon herself is sympathetically drawn, but we don’t see much character development through the book, which is a pity.
The most interesting character, a very clever stroke by the author, is the introduction of Sid Khan, an Indian working in Berlin for the Foreign Office in an intelligence-gathering capacity. His story must be worth a book alone as he develops from a loyal subject to a doubting one who obviously has a personal and political journey to go on.
The pace ratchets up nicely rising to the crisis point we know is coming. Action scenes are well-crafted; I was swallowing hard at several places.
I was drawn to the title of this book as the death of Geli Raubal is one of those rich side-mysteries of the Third Reich; the influence of Hitler’s half-niece and his fascination for her could well have changed history if she had lived. However, I was disappointed that the first mention of Geli didn’t appear until Chapter 18! This is a significant failing of what would otherwise be a first-class novel of the period. A thriller really requires some solid clue to the central mystery within the first chapter, or possibly two. For my money, I would have cut a considerable number of the earlier chapters and gone straight to the mystery.
However, I did enjoy this well-researched novel very much and once it got to the heart of the story, it caused me some late-night reading.
© Jessica Brown