Chaotic historical mystery from Nova (Cruisers, 2004, etc.), who continues his move toward more heavily plotted work.
The setting, credibly evoked, is ominous, sinister Weimar Berlin in 1930, amid street fighting and brutal political maneuvering by both the Left and the soon-to-be triumphant Nazis. Gaelle, a young woman disfigured by a scar from a car crash, has learned to make her living as a prostitute not by hiding her injury but by capitalizing on the damaged allure it lends her. She becomes the sought-after companion of several powerful figures, and in a city where the only commerce as reliable as the sex trade is information trafficking, she learns to play every side against the others. This is a dangerous business, perhaps even a fatal one, as Gaelle is well aware. But she’s attended by another maimed soul, a lame teen named Felix who’s determined to protect her from the dangers that lurk everywhere. Meanwhile a serial rapist and killer has been preying on young women, several of them acquaintances of Gaelle, and a female detective named Armina comes to her, as so many have before, for tidbits of gossip and inside knowledge. Embattled Armina, Berlin’s only female detective, is the novel’s most memorable character, but Nova buries her beneath hackneyed subplots that include a mystical love match and a battle of wills with a corrupt, amoral boss.
The author’s formidable literary gifts are only occasionally on view in an overly ambitious psychological thriller that provides little persuasive psychology and few thrills.