Title: Babylon Berlin
Author: Volker Kutscher, translated by Niall Seller
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th January 2018
Synopsis: A GEREON RATH MYSTERY
‘Political maelstrom, a populist right on the march — sound familiar? . . . It’s fabulous debauchery and naughtiness, a political maelstrom and a ticking timebomb.’ The Guardian
Set in pre-Nazi Germany, Babylon Berlin is the first book in the bestselling German crime series. Seasons one and two on Netflix Australia now.
Berlin, 1929: When a car is hauled out of the Landwehr Canal with a mutilated corpse inside, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath claims the case. Soon his inquiries drag him ever deeper into the morass of Weimar Berlin’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ underworld of cocaine, prostitution, gunrunning and shady politics.
A fascinating, brilliant and impeccably detailed crime series set in the Weimar Republic between the world wars with a backdrop of the rise of Nazism.
Now a major international television series
‘Unrelenting in tension until an explosive climax; as well as delivering the thrills Kutscher captures perfectly in dark tones the menacing atmosphere and lurking threats of a unique — and pivotal — time and place in history.’
Craig Russell, author of the Jan Fabel series
‘Twenties Germany in all its seedy splendour: impressive.’
Sarah Ward, author of In Bitter Chill
‘Gripping, skilfully plotted and rich in historical detail.’
Mrs Peabody Investigates
‘Evocative thriller set in Berlin’s seedy underworld during
the Roaring Twenties.’
Mail on Sunday
In the months and years before Hitler’s eventual rise to power, and in the months before the Great Depression hits, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath investigates murders and other unsavoury crimes that plague the city of Berlin. It is May when a car is dragged from the Landwehr Canal, complete with mutilated corpse, just one in a string of murders and incidents that are connected and that form the case that Gereon Rath takes on, and digs deeper into, uncovering secrets, and villains he never thought he would. In this world, people are not as they seem, they are secretive, only showing what the world wants them to see. Gereon is like this too, hiding an addiction and a troubled mind and worries. The mystery thickens with each passing chapter and day – each day is encapsulated in a chapter, so it is a rather long book, and it does take a little while to solve the mystery. As things become more complicated, the flawed anti-hero, Rath, starts to become caught up in the very underworld he is investigating, with characters just as morally flawed as he comes across, though perhaps he gets points for trying to question the flawed morals he faces, but not always. It takes a long time for Rath to solve the mystery, which feels a little drawn out at times but then moves along at a decent pace at other times – the lulls seem to show relationships that feel like they fizzle out and disappear, with not much made of them beyond that.
Overall, the plot is intriguing, though a bit long-winded, and could have been edited down to gear up the pacing, the delays that Rath faced did allow for some character development, amidst a growing unrest in Germany, with the SA and Nazis slowly rising and causing trouble, mixed in with a fear of Russians and Communism, presenting a backdrop that doesn’t overshadow the main plot, whilst still setting the scene for Rath and the actions of those around him. Gereon’s flaws are potentially what made him the most interesting character out of a cast of many – some of which only had short roles, maybe a few chapters or a few pages, and then disappeared, and the hinted at romance seemed to fizzle out. However, I will give this the benefit of the doubt as it is the beginning of a series. and it is possible these threads will be picked up in subsequent books.
One thing that could have moved the plot along was less travelling time and time spent on travelling scenes – a few quick transitions here and there would have worked just as well as the intricate descriptions and details. When reading this book, I was much more interested in the case being investigated – I did want to know about the private lives of the characters but felt some of this came out a little too much for the first book in a series – spacing it out makes it more exciting for the reader to discover. Another was the mention of green lights and electric hair dryers – uncommon for the setting, with explanations that felt misunderstood by those questioning the lines about them – though perhaps they work in the sense that the modern world is coming into being and slowly, new developments are taking place, and that is why only a few people know about them.
Though this is a long book, if you enjoy crime fiction and historical fiction, I would still recommend this. But take your time, as there are many details to try and remember, as it does get quite busy at times.