A thriller set in early 1930s Berlin. People who can’t bear to read about violence toward children should skip this book; those with sensitive stomachs may want to look elsewhere, too.
Berlin headlines scream about people being sickened by tainted sausages. Bags of bones show up in the city’s sewer system. Detective Willi Kraus quickly learns the bones are the remains of children—and young boys are disappearing from the city. His superiors take the spectacular murder case away from him because he is Jewish and hand him the case of the bad sausages instead. But Willi had won the Iron Cross in the Great War, and everyone knows his bravery is second to none. A father himself, he cannot—will not—ignore the boys and the bones, even though his insubordination imperils his career. Willi is intelligent, relentless, sympathetic and imperfect as he digs where no one else will go. He deals with Jew-baiting colleagues, frightened Gypsy boys, bloody slaughterhouses and deranged killers who seem to be warming up for the Holocaust. It doesn’t take much imagination for the reader to connect the murders and the sausages, and Willi does it. The twists and the details are startling and macabre, fitting even for the horror genre. Grossman plumbs the lowest depths to which humans can sink. As the book hurtles to its conclusion, the reader can see that the terror is only beginning. The mad, mustachioed Hitler is on the ascendance, with his cadre of jackbooted thugs.
To call this book enjoyable or satisfying feels wrong, because the deeds are so ugly. But it’s terrifying and worthy. Human nature has never looked so raw.