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Thursday, 13 July 2017

'The Silent Death' by Volker Kutscher

Translated from German by Niall Sellar
Published by Sandstone Press,
18 May 2017.  
ISBN 978-1-910985-64-9 (PB)

Volker Kutscher really conveys the atmosphere of a frenetic Berlin in 1930.   The battles between Communists and Nazis are rumbling along in the background in a city where people can find interesting bars and restaurants and obtain, if they wish, drugs to add to their excitement.   Rath is a native of Cologne so he can look at Berlin fairly dispassionately.   

In Berlin, in 1930, silent movies are being replaced by the new and expensive talkies so there is turmoil in the acting and producing world as people manoeuvre to get established in this changing milieu.  When an actress is killed during the filming of a talkie by a lighting system falling on her, Inspector Gereon Rath is sent to investigate.  He has various demons of his own to fight.    His father arrives in Berlin and requests that he help the mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, with a problem; a friend has asked him to investigate the disappearance of another actress,  his job has involved him in activity around the funeral of Horst Wessel who is to become a Nazi martyr.  Meanwhile he has returned to smoking and there is his exgirlfriend Charlotte…. Furthermore Rath doesn’t get on with his superior and has hit Brenner, a fellow detective, in public for coarse remarks about a lady; Brenner has used the incident to cause trouble for Rath.    Rath is sidelined in the investigation into Betty’s death until it becomes apparent that there could be links between her death and those of other actresses.

The action takes place over 2 weeks from Feb. 28th, 1930 to March 14th and its progress is reminiscent of a film script.  In fact, the script for the silent movie was very helpful in pinpointing the development of Betty’s murder.  The frenetic atmosphere of the city of Berlin emphasises a nightmarish quality added to references to shadowy activity involving films, women and drugs.  Rath is self-destructive in what has become the traditional way of detectives of any era but he is, of course, also clever and persistent so he eventually reaches a successful conclusion though he only just escapes some bad effects on his professional career and on himself.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer 
Volker Kutscher has written a series of novels about Gereon Rath - the first of these, Babylon Berlin, is a Sky TV series.

Photo Credit: Monika Sandel
Volker Kutscher was born in 1962 in Lindlar, West Germany. He studied German, Philosophy and History, and worked as a newspaper editor prior to writing his first detective novel. Babylon Berlin, the start of an award-winning series of novels to feature Gereon Rath and his exploits in late Weimar Republic Berlin. This enormously successful crime series which, in addition to compelling narrative, is notable for its scrupulous accuracy on Germany in the years between its beginning in 1927 and the approach to the Second World War. Volker Kutscher works as a full-time author and lives in Cologne.

Niall Sellar was born in Edinburgh in 1984. He studied German and Translation Studies in Dublin, Konstanz and Edinburgh, and has worked variously as a translator, teacher and reader. Alongside his translation work, he currently teaches Modern Foreign Languages in Harrow. He lives in London.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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