Dresden, late 1944, which as historians will know, is not a safe place to be. As the Allies advance on Germany and the bombs continue to drop, police detective Max Heller has other things to worry about – notably a serial killer stalking the streets. When the body of a young nurse is found mutilated and display as in some bizarre ritual, stories begin to circulate about the Fright Man, a monster who stalks the streets abducting women. And then another body is found.
Heller is determined to bring the killer to justice but with the war in its final stages, his resources are completely depleted and he has more pressing concerns regarding managing the increasingly panicked population of the city as the Allies press closer and the bombs keep falling. And when the worst finally does happen, can he – and will he even want to – find a killer who seems still to be active in the ruins of the once great city?
Not an entry into my “Do Mention The War” series as this is a modern novel, translated from the original German by Steve Anderson, but while on holiday, there were only so many applicable books on my Kindle, so this caught my eye – I bought it in one of those 99p offers a while ago, but have been meaning to take a look at it due to the setting.
This is very much a book of two halves, although those two halves sit side by side. The picture of Dresden and a look at life in the doomed city as the clock ticks down is evocative and I was genuinely surprised (and pleased) that the finale didn’t feature Heller chasing the killer as the bombs dropped around them in February 1945 – in fact the final bombing occurs halfway through and the second half of the book concerns Heller continuing his investigation under the supervision of the Russians who now occupied the city. The character of Heller is interesting – I wonder if there was more potential to make him a Nazi, but that would be a very difficult book to read (and probably write) – and the writer and translator do a very good job with his point of view.
But the history is certainly the attraction here as the mystery element – serial killer, dead girls, no desperately coherent motive – is something that most crime fiction readers will have seen before and is nothing to get excited about. The killer stood out a mile to me once they first appeared and despite a bucket load of red herring suspects, at least one of which seemed to come out of nowhere, that aspect of the tale didn’t really work for me.
So, if you’re interested in modern German history, especially from a German point of view, then this is definitely worth your time. But if your primary goal is a mystery novel… maybe look elsewhere.