SHADOW AND LIGHT by Jonathan Rabb
“Sascha had been seduced by these men. Fichte had been betrayed by them. Martha had been killed by them. And now, these Thulians who had used Rosa Luxemburg – and Hoffner himself – and whose failure had forced them to slip silently away eight years ago, were once again making themselves known in Berlin. Hoffner had been lucky in 1919, lucky to find enough in the tangled strands to threaten them with exposure. The price for that luck had been almost everything. Maybe that was why he had chosen to forget as well.”
Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUN 4, 2009)
Berlin in 1927 is a difficult city to leave, even for the best of reasons. There’s the Wannsee and its beaches in summer, the Ice Palast and Luna Park in winter, and the ever beautiful Unter den Linden, the Tiergarten, the Zoologischer Garten and multiple cafes with rich pastries all year round. Berlin is the city of divine decadence, (remember the movie “Caberet?”), and a thriving film industry. And Weimar Berlin still suffers from losers’ blues, with a treasury depleted by war reparations it is not able to pay. The capital city is also where the reader gets a sense of how strong the NAZI Party has grown, from 27,000 members nationwide in 1925 to 108,000 in 1929. Shadow and Light‘s primary storylines surround the film industry and the Party. Movie director Fritz Lang and Joeseph Goebbels are characters here, as are actress and writer Thea von Harbou, actor Peter Lorre, the Tiller Girls and far right-wing media magnate Alfred Hugenberg.
Nikolai Hoffner, chief inspector in Berlin’s Kriminalpolizei, is called in to check-out the apparent suicide of UFA studio’s movie executive Gerhard Thyssen. But the suicide is a murder, our detective deduces.
Silent films are on the way out, but not quite. The future is in movies with sound. The Americans knew that UFA “was after sound” and had come up with a device “which would revolutionize the way films are produced.” “Without sound all you have is shadow and light. Flat, soulless, barren. Sound is the third dimension.” Leni Coyle, an American talent scout in the employ of MGM, a major rival of UFA, comes scouting for the device…and becomes Hoffner’s lover while she’s at it. Fritz Lang and crime syndicate boss Alby Pimm are somehow induced to assist Hoffner in the investigation, which takes them into much murkier realms than mere murder and the demise of silent films.
I first met protagonist Kriminal-Oberkomissar Nikolai Hoffner in Jonathan Rabb’s Rosa. There, Hoffner was a superb multi-faceted character, a consummate professional, and brilliant detective with a tremendous sense of irony. In Shadow and Light, though still as savvy, Hofner is less tough, almost pathetic, and more much morose. Depressing, in fact. His drinking habit has progressively increased. but he is still driven to discover anyone and anything involved in this most complex of cases. This flawed man has allowed the skeletons in his closet to reach out and tap him on the shoulder too frequently. Wife Martha was murdered as a direct result of his sleuthing. Alienated older son Sasha is now caught up in the rising tide of fascism, and 16 year-old son Georg has left school to be a script researcher and gofer in the film industry. The detective may be a more interesting character for all this, but his is a tale that makes for a dark read, sometimes too dark even for noir.
I also found the plots, subplots and sub-sub plots convoluted and too difficult to follow at times, even for someone with lots of patience. I loved Jonathan Rabb’s Rosa, but Shadow and Light falls far short. If you like German historical novels, you shouldn’t miss this one – just borrow don’t buy.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 46 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 31, 2009)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Shadow and Light|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Jonathan Rabb|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Review of Rosa; also see Phillip Kerr’s novels|
Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner: