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June 17, 2013 / schulerbooks

The Man from Berlin, by Luke McCallin

9780425263051

Captain Gregor Reinhardt is not what you would call a contented man.

An officer in the Abwehr, he can barely remember a time when he felt good about himself. When he was a proper policeman, back in Germany. When he was happily married to a good woman, before she died. When his estranged son still looked up to him, before he joined her in death.

When he had a government he could occasionally look up to, before the Nazis ruined it.

Now, posted to one of the most ethnically, religiously, and politically-divided areas in Europe — Sarajevo, in Yugoslavia — he spends his days carrying out orders he can’t live with, and spends his nights drunk and waiting for the moment where he’ll put his gun to his temple, again, and see if tonight’s his lucky night.

Not a great way to go through life, even in wartime. But then he”s handed a case that puts the poor hand he feels he’s been dealt in some perspective.

One of his fellow Abwehr officers has been found murdered in a woman’s apartment. The woman has also been murdered, and quite brutally. But what gives Reinhardt pause is that he knew her — a beautiful, lively, and politically-active woman, renowned throughout the higher echelons of the Reich for her patriotic film-making.

Reinhardt had danced with her, once, and she made him feel as though his troubles did not exist, so he figures the least he can do for her is find out what happened. But discovering that will be very difficult in this place and this time.

Promised “cooperation” by the local police, he’s partnered with a brutal thug who would rather pin the murder on someone from a long list of suspected communists, partisans, and Jews, and getting help from an old police colleague, now working in the SS, proves farcical at best. He  runs into interference from the mob of other, higher officers in town, all preparing for a major offensive against the partisans, and not willing to be asked questions about their whereabouts from some impertinent little Captain. And he soon begins to wonder if his commanding officer is able, or willing, to tell him the whole truth,

As Reinhardt continues to investigate, in spite of all obstacles, he comes to understand that this is not merely an investigation into a murder. There is a secret, here — maybe several secrets. And people are willing to kill and kill again in order to keep them.

Can Captain Reinhardt persevere and find what has really happened in this divided town, or is this doomed to be yet another case where the truth is discarded in the name of a higher purpose he can’t believe in, anymore?

Saying that Luke McCallin’s debut novel is just an engrossing read is selling it short. The Man from Berlin presents a complex puzzle, filled with memorable characters with differing agendas, all coming together in an unforgettable investigation, worthy of comparison to Martin Cruz Smith and Alan Furst. It may start out a bit slow, as the pieces must be assembled and examined, but once the kubelwagen gets moving, I defy anyone who likes wartime mysteries to put it down. If anything, you’ll be joining me in looking forward to Captain Reinhardt’s next assignment

The Man from Berlin comes out on July 2nd, 2013

Jim Tremlett – Eastwood

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