Friday, May 5, 2017

Review of The Divided City by Luke McCallin (Berkeley, 2016)

1947, Berlin. Gregor Reinhardt has returned to Berlin and is back serving as a detective inspector in the local police force. Post-war, the force is full of green and unqualified recruits, many of them serving as puppets for their various Allied masters, and Reinhardt is shunned and mocked – especially by those with communist sympathies – for being a former officer and being sponsored by the Americans.  He generally keeps himself to himself, working the night shift.  In the early hours he is called to a double homicide. A British agent is found dead in a stairwell. In an apartment above a former Luftwaffe fighter pilot has been asphyxiated. The British want the killer of their agent caught. Reinhardt is given the less political task of investigated the death of the pilot. He soon discovers that the pilot was one in a series of deaths involving members of the same squadron and the Russians and Americans are also interested in the case. Each power is demanding to be informed of progress, as well as an underground group of ex-military German personnel. Unwittingly, Reinhardt finds himself playing a deadly game with a killer out for revenge and four Allied powers struggling for control of a divided city.

The Divided City is the third book in the Reinhardt series. After charting Reinhardt’s exploits in Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War, this outing is set in Berlin in 1947. Reinhardt has returned to his pre-war job as a detective in the Berlin Kripo. McCallin uses this scenario to create a very nice setup, with Reinhardt continuing his outsider role.  Very few policeman who served in the Nazi era have survived in post and the force is full of new recruits with little experience and who are full of resentment. Reinhardt commands little respect and is openly mocked by colleagues. He does though have the knowledge and skills to undertake a complex murder case and the survival instinct to navigate dirty politics. In the case he’s presented – former fighter pilots from the same squadron being murdered – he needs all his wits to track down clues and survive political and physical attacks from all sides. It’s clear that the book is well researched and McCallin gives a sense of the landscape and social life of the devastated city, the alienation of the German populace and social divisions, and the political in-fights between the four Allied powers running the city. Reinhardt is an interesting, conflicted character, and the characterisation in general is strong. Where the book excels is with respect to the plot. It’s a little ponderous to start, but it soon gains direction. McCallin weaves together a complex tapestry and there’s a tremendous amount going on, but at the same time it’s straightforward to follow the threads and various intrigues. It’s not obvious who the killer is until near the end, which I sensed more from intuition than piecing together evidence, and it’s only with the reveal that it’s clear that McCallin left a series of well veiled clues. Overall, an atmospheric and engaging tale.

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