August 27, 2008

Books: Rosa by Jonathan Rabb

Berlin in the months after the end of World War I. The Kaiser has fled after the defeat and left a political vacuum in his wake. Late in 1918 was an attempted socialist revolution led by the Spartakus Party with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg as its leaders. The revolution was crushed and the clampdown severe.

It's against this backdrop that Jonathan Rabb's third novel opens. Several women have been found murdered in the poorer parts of town, all with identical stab wounds on their back, and world-weary detective Nikolai Hoffner is on the case. When the next victim that is discovered turns out to be Rosa Luxembourg, the case takes on a whole different twist, but Hoffner isn't prepared to listen to advice from his seniors and leave it all to the Political Police, or Polpo.

The case is seemingly solved and Hoffner and his assistant are the toast of the town, but the political intrigue persists, and Hoffner cannot leave the case alone. As he probes deeper he encounters ever-increasing dangers and has time to reflect on certain life choices he has made.

Rabb superbly recreates the Berlin of the era, with its cold, dark and dangerous streets, and the political tensions of the time have clearly been well-researched. His hero, Hoffner, the flawed human being with brilliant powers of detection makes for a classic lead, and the whole novel almost suggests something from a Fritz Lang film, or another classic noir director.

An utterly absorbing read.

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