In his debut novel, Mears introduces Pinkerton detective Michael Temple, a man sent to Berlin in 1934 with one goal: bring back American film star Sara Potter.
Before he even leaves the airport, Temple is drawn into a web of murder, romance and revenge that leads to the highest echelons of Germany’s emerging Nazi power structure. Paramount hired Temple for a simple mission of retrieval: find the actress Sara Potter and convince her to return to America. Upon his arrival, another emerging starlet is sadistically murdered on the set of the German movie studio UFA, and Temple becomes a suspect. Soon, his every move is watched by the increasingly bold Gestapo; his burgeoning romance with Potter only complicates matters further. Temple’s smartass demeanor bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Marlowe, although it remains Mears’ distinct creation since his PI is imbued with considerably more warmth than Chandler’s. One of Mears’ major achievements is his thoroughly researched, entirely believable depiction of pre–World War II Germany. His portrayal of the German capital’s streets and neighborhoods, the newspapers of the time, and even Berlin-taxi-driver slang lend the story a credibility that’s lacking in many other period mysteries. An impressive balance of both plot threads—the love story and the political intrigue—propels the story forward. In particular, the tense political climate comes through vividly: Berlin’s citizens are wary of being seen reading the “wrong” newspaper or even discussing politics with lifelong friends. Mears doesn’t shy from portraying well-known personalities, either: Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, the Fuhrer himself, and, as the title suggests, famed screen star Marlene Dietrich all make memorable appearances. Temple is a sympathetic narrator, a vulnerable, even ultimately sentimental detective who wants not only to do his job, but endearingly, to do the right thing. The typos distract a little, and there are perhaps 50 or 60 pages too many, but Mears has created a classic gumshoe novel of the best kind—tough guys and tougher dames, plenty of cocktails, gruesome murder scenes, fast-paced action and whip-smart dialogue. In the tradition of such masters as Chandler and Hammett, it’s all here, covered in a thick patina of cigarette smoke, set to a soundtrack of swing bands and clinking beer steins.
A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.