The Jewish daughter of German refugees living in 1941 New York City goes from suspect to detective after her idol, a legendary German actress and outspoken scourge of the Nazis, is murdered.
College student Misia Safran is devastated by the brutal slaying of Stella Berger at the Broadway theater where Safran had a job in the ticket booth. Safran comes under suspicion after a street musician she allowed to enter the theater is seen by witnesses “running from the victim’s dressing room.” That man is Viktor Erdos, who knew Berger since she was a child in Vienna, encouraged her talent and became her lifelong (platonic) confidant before a mysterious falling out. Erdos is one of the memorably drawn characters looming large in Berger’s story. Others include Berger’s husband, Alexander Levary, a director and dandy; Ulla Scholz, Berger’s private secretary (or was she more?); Curtis Wolff, an aspiring lawyer and Safran’s boyfriend; and famed stage and screen actress Lotte Lenya. Each has a story to tell about Berger, each story a piece of the puzzle that will ultimately reveal all about Berger (and her killer). The weakest link in Goldstein’s (Dina’s Lost Tribe, 2010) period novel is Safran herself. For most of the narrative, her role is that of a transcriber of other characters’ versions of events. “I made myself invisible,” she notes at one point. “I withdrew into the background. All ears, I was a fly on the wall.” Only near the end of the book does she become actively involved in the investigation. Dialogue isn’t Goldstein’s strong suit, particularly in the case of two policeman—one German, the other Irish—who initially suspect her: “You mean to say a nice looking girl like you doesn’t have something romantic going on? No fiancé? Are you playing us for fools?” The book’s best passages insightfully deal with the German immigrant experience of the time, the guilt of having loved ones still in Hitler’s Germany—“Why didn’t we force her to leave,” Safran bemoans of her grandmother—and memories of “the magic, lost world of Weimar Belin,” where her parents were musical artists and entertainers.
More melodramatic than taut noir but an engrossing read for fans of historical fiction.