Another richly painted Willi Kraus thriller, in which a mundane assignment goes horribly wrong.
The year is 1933, and Willi's reputation as one of Berlin’s finest detectives counts for nothing in the new Hitler regime. As a Jew, Will has just recently escaped his native country for the relative safety of Paris. His status in France is tenuous, though. Never mind that he was a German hero in the Great War; simply having a German accent sits poorly with many in France. Now, the widower must obtain a work permit to support himself and his two sons. If he’s caught working without a permit, he can be shipped back to Germany—his worst fear. Unable to get one, he still accepts an assignment to follow a young student, not knowing he will witness a murder. Then, Willi enmeshes himself in a labyrinth of intrigue that reaches into the highest echelons of power in France. Along the way, he meets the beautiful and seductive Vivi, with whom he carries on a passionate affair. Willi is an honorable man readers will root for as he tries to unravel a murder mystery, avoid deportation and learn who Vivi really is. But a great deal of space goes to describing Willi’s angst. By nature, he is much more a thinker than a blood-and-guts guy, which is wise given his touchy status in France. Occasionally, the narrative seems to be worry, worry, have sex, worry, worry, have sex, but overall, the tension builds quite well, and Willi’s hand-wringing is amply justified. Although it lacks the power of Grossman’s Children of Wrath (2012), this is a fine novel showing pre-WWII France as it fantasizes about security behind the Maginot Line.
Read it, then hope Grossman writes more about Willi in Paris. He has plenty of time before the Nazis arrive.