Monday, October 5, 2015

Review of The Pale House by Luke McCallin (No Exit Press, 2015)

Late March 1945 and the Germans are on the retreat on all fronts.  After a harrowing time in the hands of the Gestapo after the failed attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944, Captain Gregor Reinhardt finds himself back in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where he’d served two years previously.  This time he is a member of the Feldjaegerkorps -- the military police -- who have far reaching powers to conduct investigations across all units.  Having served as a detective in Berlin before the war, Reinhardt has a nose for tracking down criminals and in a city under siege and sheltering the worst elements of Ustaše - the Croatian fascists - and a German penal battalion he has plenty to choose from.  What draws his attention is two separate executions of seemingly anonymous soldiers.  And the more he probes, the stronger the pressure to divert his attention.  Only Reinhardt is a man of principles -- he might be working for a corrupt state, but he still believes in justice regardless of consequence.   

The Pale House is the second book in the Captain Gregor Reinhardt series.  Reinhardt joined the police after the First World War, rising to become a detective inspector in the Berlin Kripo before joining the Abwehr and the fringes of the German resistance.  In the closing stages of the Second World War he finds himself in Sarajevo as the partisans close in, working for the military police.  The city is in turmoil as the Germans prepare to retreat and the Croatian Ustaše lash out at the civilian population, knowing they are about to be overrun.  Despite sense of impending doom and savagery, McCallin has Reinhardt conduct a murder investigation, weaving a clever, compelling and somewhat complex plot.  He very nicely captures the fear at work in the city, the tension within the German ranks and between them and their Croatian collaborators.  Reinhardt is a somewhat sombre character, but his principles and role as a flawed but ‘good German’ in a corrupt regime makes him an interesting anti-hero.  The other characters are well penned, though given the case and situation, they’re all a pretty rum lot.  I particularly liked the very strong sense of place and it’s clear that McCallin has done his historical research, yet it doesn't dominate the story but rather provides good context.  Overall, an excellent historical crime tale and a strong addition to what’s shaping up to be a very good series.

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