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BERLIN by Pierre Frei


by Pierre Frei & translated by Anthea Bell

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-8021-1832-1
Publisher: Grove

A sprawling thriller set amid the hard times and horrors of pre– and post–World War II Germany.

There’s a killer on the loose in postwar Berlin—one with a predilection for blue-eyed German blondes. Already he’s murdered a series of women, first sexually assaulting them and then choking them with a chain. And unless American MP John Ashburner and German inspector Klaus Dietrich can stop him, he’ll no doubt kill again. In the meantime, Ben, Dietrich’s son, is adapting nicely to life under occupation, scamming all manner of suckers as he tries to get together the cash he needs to woo local hottie Heidi Rödel. And let’s not forget the victims. With each killing, Frei offers a decade’s worth of backstory, cataloguing each of the slain women’s pasts (paying, in occasionally cringe-inducing language, particular attention to their sexual histories). In detailing these pasts, the author weaves an evocative portrait of Berlin and Germany before and during the war—the rise of Hitler, the first hints of concentration camps, a people’s slow slide into depravity. Unfortunately, Frei seems never to have known just what sort of book he wanted to write. Is it a coming-of-age story? A set of character sketches? A study of German society in the years before the war? As for it being a mystery—the investigative scenes are about as brief and perfunctory as they come. The question isn’t so much whodunit, as who cares?

Unfocused, and unsatisfying as a whole.