From Publishers Weekly
Based on the obscure four-month-long disappearance of the corpse of Rosa Luxemburg, the "Devil Jewess" Socialist Democrat revolutionary, after her summary execution on January 15, 1919, this brooding, studiously researched fiction noir from Rabb (The Overseer
; The Book of Q
) imagines the maelstrom of conspiracy and political unrest in post-WWI Germany. For six dreary weeks, starting in early December, veteran Det. Insp. Nikolai Hoffner--along with Hans Fichte, an ambitious 23-year-old detective trainee--has been baffled by the corpses of middle-aged women appearing around Berlin with signature designs carved into their backs. In mid-January, Hoffner is called to see a fifth corpse in an abandoned subway station, and at the morgue, he is shown a sixth body--that of the infamous Rosa Luxemburg. Her corpse has similar markings, but there are subtle differences. These suspicious variations--coupled with the arrogant intervention of the powerful Polpo (political police), who spirit the corpse away to a morgue upstairs--launch Hoffner on a perilous, labyrinthine inquiry. Sometimes the novel's prose is rather tangled and Rabb struggles to get his story told, but subtexts of love, betrayal and a detective at war with his feelings illuminate this gothic tapestry of anti-Semitism and ethnic elitism with its foreshadowing of the Nazi era.
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*Starred Review* Rabb (author of the critically acclaimed Overseer
, 1998) writes a wonderfully evocative novel about Berlin immediately after World War I. At its center is a historical mystery: Who murdered longtime revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, imprisoned throughout the war, galvanized into forming the first German Communist Party after the war, and found drowned in the Landwehr Canal in 1919? In this take on what happened, Berlin Detective-Inspector Nikolai Hoffner and his assistant, Hans Fichte, return after the war to their jobs and to a city ripped open by the ravages of war. They investigate four murders in the slums of Berlin: each woman has the same markings cut into their backs. When Rosa Luxemburg's corpse is discovered to have the same markings, the case turns political, with the German "political police" now edging in. This novel transcends the mystery genre by offering readers a glimpse into the economic and political chaos in Berlin after the war and then transcends politics by giving a pulsatingly detailed account of individual life at a particular moment in history: dress (what prostitutes wore, what police wore), food, furnishings, and street life. Casting a longtime police detective as the hero works brilliantly, since the reader shares Hoffner's shock at the changes writ large on every piece of Berlin pavement. Connie FletcherCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved