A suspicious suicide at a film studio sets off a chilling chain of events in the second of Rabb’s Berlin-between-the-wars trilogy (Rosa, 2005).
In 1919, Nikolai Hoffner was a Berlin detective with a bleak worldview. Now it’s eight years later, and to describe Hoffner’s worldview as bleak would be an unpardonable understatement, like calling Hitler mean-spirited. Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar (Chief Inspector) Hoffner sees both Berlin and himself as beyond redemption—the city because it has sunk into joyless decadence; himself because in the vital roles of husband and father he’s been so total and abject a failure. All he shares with his sons, 16-year-old Georgi and 24-year-old Sascha, is the unshakable belief that he was responsible for the death of their mother. Still, he is once and forever a cop, unalterably skilled and efficient, and a cop’s got to do what he’s hard-wired to do. Within minutes after his arrival at Ufa, Berlin’s major film studio, he recognizes that the suicide he’s been summoned to validate is distinctly ersatz; in fact, it’s a murder ineptly disguised. To begin with, no one can adequately explain why Gerhard Thyssen—a well-liked, successful executive—would want to kill himself. On the other hand, as Hoffner discovers when his investigation deepens, motives for murder are in unexpected profusion. Thyssen, like almost everyone else at Ufa, led a secret life involving a multiplicity of agendas, and before Hoffner can make sense of them all, he will find himself dealing with a surplus of bad guys.
Rabb’s prose can occasionally be provokingly gnomic, but as usual, he has a good story to tell and most readers will bear with him contentedly.