(27. - 1099.) Germania by Harald Gilbers (translated by Alexandra Roesch) - The Jew and the Nazi. A sleuthing team I never expected to encounter.
Dread dominates life in Berlin in May of 1944. Dread of the almost nightly bombing. Dread of the SS or SD knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Dread of a message a loved one has died at the front. Dread the Allies will win. Dread the Nazis will achieve “ultimate victory”.
There is yet another level of dread In the Jewish House where Jews, tenuously protected by their marriages to non-Jews, are resident.
On a spring Sunday the SS summons Richard Oppenheimer, a police inspector before his dismissal from the force because he is Jewish, from the House to investigate a gruesome slaying. A young woman has been slain and sexually mutilated. (There are more details than I needed but not too many.)
Why would the SS want a Jew wonders Oppenheimer? Hauptsturmführer Vogler knows that Oppenheimer worked on a highly public case of a sadistic sexual serial killer. While it would be perilous to decline Oppenheimer is also drawn to be able to investigate again.
A meticulous methodical investigator he carefully and, where possible, personally investigates the case. His thoroughness and skifull questions move the case ahead.
As with numerous sleuths he has his own organization of the information gathered. He pins cards to a wall in the form of a circle. Particulars of the victim are at the centre. Notes on circumstances and potential suspects fill other cards. When information favours a suspect the card for that suspect moves closer to the centre. (I was reminded of Maisie Dobbs using the back of rolls of wallpaper for notes in different coloured pens with lines connecting notes.)
Vogler has a true Nazi’s disdain for Jews and, even though he increasingly needs to solve the crime, he holds back information from Oppenheimer.
Nazi leadership can control and manipulate the media but rumours are beyond their reach. The average German knowing the media is unreliable, even deceitful, is alert to every rumour. Were it to circulate there is a sadistic sexual predator in Berlin public stability would be at risk.
More women die.
The book defies easy associations. Promising connections prove to be only partially connected. Leads are elusive. Oppenheimer is not dismayed. He moves on. He is a precise and relentless man.
He has a friend in Hilde, a doctor, divorced from a senior SS officer. Sundays they share conversation and confidences.
It is clear Oppenheim is seeking a clever killer who can move bodies around Berlin. The prospect the killer might be a senior Nazi is yet another reason for dread.
The unknown killer rages against “National Socialism being infected by prostitutes”. The killer’s identification of women deserving death because they are whores is expansive.
The SS and other Nazi organizations are startling in their complexity. There is constant conflict as they compete internally and externally for power. How is an outsider, especially a Jew, to understand all the machinations within the National Socialist groups? There are almost too many acronyms to remember.
It is ironic, even diabolical, that Oppenheimer penetrates levels of secrecy within Nazi officialdom. Oppenheimer has a unique experience in being a Jew entering inside Nazi officialdom but how can he assist this evil empire that has killed millions of Jews? No officals are concerned over the safety of Berlin women. Their goal is to protect the Party, discreetly find the killer and avoid public unrest. Yet Oppenheimer has made a commitment to find a killer and save more women from brutal death.
Though the investigation is intensive, progress is painfully slow. A month into the investigation the killer strikes higher within the Nazi hierarchy. Gilbers skilfully builds the tension.
Within every page is the underlying stresses for Oppenheimer of potential arrest and the risk of death from the sky. Oppenheimer is barely at ease. Even when he is with Lisa or Hilde it is so difficult to relax.
Gilbers has written an impressive book that happens to be crime fiction. The characters are interesting and fully drawn. He clearly knows Berlin. Germania is a powerful portrayal of life in that beautiful city which is being destroyed night by night while the vicious governing Nazi regime disintegrates day by day. And the mystery is well crafted.