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September 6, 2014 / schulerbooks

The Pale House, by Luke McCallin


The last time Gregor Reinhardt was in Sarajevo, a couple years ago, he was a mess.

A former Berlin policeman unhappy with his lot in the Third Reich, Reinhardt halfheartedly investigated military crimes for the ABWEHR during the day, and weakly attempted suicide each night. But then he found a reason to go on, thanks to a brutal case that finally spoke to the man he once was. And he ended up not only solving that case, but ultimately becoming a collaborator in a plot against the Nazi regime.

Now it’s 1945, and he’s back in town — this time with the Feldjaegerkorps, whose investigative remit is so powerful that even superior officers must answer his questions. Not that he should be in Sarajevo too long, though; the enemy is pushing its way towards the city, and the Wehrmacht is going to “reposition” itself between them and Berlin. So this should just be a clean-up detail, making certain things go as smoothly as possible as everyone picks up their gear and gets on a train.

Of course, a case would drop in Reinhardt’s lap, and on the way into town, no less. A strange combination of machine-gunned corpses and burned bodies leads him to suspect murder, rather than the mere execution of suspected partisans or troublemakers. And a trio of frightened witnesses — who either can’t or won’t tell him what happened — all but cement his certainty that something seriously untoward has happened here.

That isn’t the only problem awaiting him, though. No sooner does he get sort-of settled in than he has yet more bodies pile up under suspicious, seemingly-contrived circumstances. The people he has to take orders from clearly want to wrap things up and move on without causing problems for the locals, and his subordinates, contacts, and old friends clearly want to be doing something else, somewhere else, and may even have ulterior motives.

Of course, Reinhardt’s not going to let that get in the way of finding out what’s going on — he’s come too far, and gone through too much, to just roll over and let things happen. But he’ll have to be very careful, as he’s not the only person who’s moved up in the world: the sadistic man-mountain of a local police officer he’d been partnered up with before — who wanted to blame those murders on communists, partisans, and people he didn’t like — is now part of the dreaded Ustase, with whom the Nazis are meant to be working. It’s an uneasy relationship at best, and Reinhardt is quickly informed that he’s to leave them alone, even if his suspicions lead them right to their door…

But there are other opportunities, here, in this amazing city. This is where he first made contact with the partisans, all that time ago, and learned that a respectable appearance is the best weapon against an iron regime. That and the willingness to take one’s authority and use it as creatively as possible.

After months of impotence and inaction, is there finally a chance for Reinhardt to strike a blow against the grotesque juggernaut of the Third Reich?

Luke McCallin’s first novel, The Man From Berlin, was an engrossing and complex debut, worthy of comparison to Martin Cruz Smith and Alan Furst. In The Pale House, McCallin has crafted a compelling continuation of that story, deftly weaving many strands together to make yet another tense wartime investigation. Reinhardt remains a man one can cheer and hope for as he navigates a city where nothing is certain, no one is what they seem, and danger or salvation could come from any angle, at any time

The Pale House is currently out in paperback, and available through Schuler Books and Music locations, and our website.

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwoood


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