Written by Damien Seaman — At the end of last year, Blasted Heath published Seaman’s debut novel, The Killing of Emma Gross, which introduced his Weimar Republic detectives Trautmann and Roth in a fictionalised retelling of the true crime mystery of the Vampire of Dusseldorf. It isn’t necessary to have read it in order to enjoy this latest novella by the author.
Once again, he writes about Berlin and the year is 1932. Kriminalkommissar Trautmann and Kriminalassistant Roth of the Kripo – the German equivalent of the CID – are called to a tenement block to investigate the murder of a young fascist found in a girl’s flat. When they arrive, they find the crime scene in chaos because of the blundering Schupo – the German uniformed police, which coincidentally had much higher proportion of Nazi membership than the Kripo. It is clear the young man has been shot twice in chest. The murder weapon, and the girl who lives there, are both missing. The landlady reveals the girl’s name is Maria Fleischer, the daughter of a prominent Berlin citizen whose business affairs skirt the edges of criminality. The dead man was her boyfriend, and her pimp.
The only lead in the flat is a cut-out from the newspaper criticising the Reich’s Interior Minister, Mr von Gaben, for his alleged favouritism towards communists and against the fascists. Maria’s father becomes the chief suspect, and because of his politics Trautmann and Roth are concerned that if the Schupo find him first, he might die ‘resisting arrest’. The chase is on, and having set up the scenario deftly, the rest of the book proceeds smoothly to a well-handled, and nicely cynical, ending.
Berlin Burning is a quick read, and can be finished in a couple of hours and is priced accordingly. The setting is of course fascinating, and the rivalries between competing police departments is shown well. Trautmann is an engaging narrator and Roth has an interesting backstory – left-wing sympathies and a man who hates himself after losing an arm during a fascist demonstration. The Schupo commander mocks him by calling him Lord Nelson.
The book is enjoyable, but what stops it standing out is a little bit of light and shade. Trautmann and Roth are perhaps a little to sympathetic, and lack the complexity that more morally compromised detectives like Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and Marek Krajewski’s Kriminaldirektor Eberhard Mock bring.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars