In my usual theme, I’ll say this is the fifth book of the Gereon Rath series, but he first I’ve read (and i have not watched Babylon Berlin, which is based on one or two of the previous books in this series). I’m happy I began with this one. Allow me to explain.
I’m a student of history, and especially WWII, with a side dip into the sociological studies of how good people do and say nothing in the face of great evils. In The March Fallen, it is 1933 Berlin, and the Nazis are consolidating their power. When a homeless WWI veteran is murdered at a train station, Rath is tasked with finding his killer – a job no one else wants to do.
The book starts out slowly, but is worth getting through, as Kutscher draws the atmosphere of an ill wind blowing into Germany while Rath puts his head down ad goes to work. Change is all around him, and despite his somewhat tepid suggestion to Charly, his fiancee, that good people will not go along with the Nazi plans, it’s clear that eventually, he will have to face the reality that his job is not just to find murderers, but to toe the Nazi line, and watch what he says and does, lest he make the wrong person angry and wind up in the hands of the SA.
The murdered man is identified by the author of a memoir, who identifies the dead man as being his orderly – and a witness to their (Jewish) Captain’s shooting of two children and another German soldier over a disagreement about gold their unit had found in a French villa as they retreated, destroying everything in their wake.
Meanwhile, another storyline focuses on a young girl – the daughter of a injured veteran who drifted into hopelessness and drugs, disillusioned with the country he once served – who set fire to the boardinghouse where they lived, killing her father and others, in her quest to escape the abuse she suffered at the hands of other men there. She’s judged unfit to stand trial and sent to a sanitarium, where she once again is abused by a man (a one legged man, keep this in mind as you read). Her escape is very clever, but everyone is trying to find her, so she relies on her wits to survive the streets. This seems to have nothing to do with the main plot of the book. Over time, as Rath’s investigation digs more deeply, that will change.
Charly gets her own subplot, as she is sent back to the department where the female detectives investigate graffitti and the like – neither this nor the changes in her country are things that she is happy with. She, at least, recognizes what’s happening, but trying to get through to Rath results in them quarreling about it. She decides to unofficially help in the investigation.
There’s a case of misidentification, missteps by Rath that lead to at least one death, the smuggling out – in plain view- a prisoner of the SA, the ebb and flow of personnel as rising stars in the Nazi party consolidate the power they have around themselves, constant surprises to Rath of people he thought he knew wholeheartedly joining the Nazis, and a satisfying resolution that both catches the killer and clears the name of the maligned Jewish Captain, in a nice dovetail of all the storylines.
It’s worth the read.
Five out of five stars.
Thanks to Sandstone Press and NetGalley for the review copy.