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Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman

The Sleepwalkers is author Paul Grossman's first effort.

From Publishers Weekly

Set in Germany in the fall of 1932, Grossman's less than stunning debut features Berlin police detective Willi Krauss, who's become a minor celebrity, despite being Jewish, after cracking the notorious Child Eater case. As the Nazis plot to gain control of the country, Krauss looks into the death of a beautiful young woman found floating in the River Spree with her head shaved and her fibulas surgically removed from one leg and replanted in the other. Meanwhile, the Weimar republic's president, Gen. Paul von Hindenberg, orders the policeman to work on another case, the disappearance of a Bulgarian princess. Though the author does a decent job of conveying the atmosphere of fear as Hitler manipulates his way to power, clich├ęd plot elements, such as a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold love interest for his hero, undercut his efforts at realism. Given the inherent lack of suspense (Krauss's detecting won't prevent the Nazis from succeeding), Grossman doesn't adequately compensate with complex characterizations. 

I think that about sums it up.  Especially since you know from the beginning that Willi will fail -- unless this is alternate history (and it isn't).  I was also a little uncomfortable with the relationship between Willi and Paula for several reasons, even knowing that the tone of Berlin at the time was largely risque.  The name dropping of every famous Jew who left Berlin became tedious, especially since Willi seemed to know most of them. Two or three would have set the time frame nicely, but so many was overkill.

It was a fearsome time.  A time when nightmares became reality and uncertainty about the future gave everything a  fantastical atmosphere.  I mean, really, who could have dreamed that the atrocities of the Nazis could ever come to pass?  The authorities in Berlin could scarcely believe it when Hitler came to power.  Grossman does a good job of creating a nightmarish atmosphere in the days before the  Weimar Republic fell victim to the Third Reich.

The little note at the end that the character of The Great Gustave was based on an actual person was interesting.  Erik Hanussen was the clairvoyant to Hitler, all the while hiding his own Jewish identity. 

Fiction.  Historical Fiction/Crime.  2010.  309 pages.

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