Kutscher, Volker. “Babylon Berlin”, Picador, 2017.
In Berlin in 1929, Detective Inspector Rath, was a successful career officer in the Cologne Homicide Division before a shooting incident in which he inadvertently killed a man. He has been transferred to the Vice Squad in Berlin, a job he hates, even though he finds a new friend in his boss, Chief Inspector Wolter. There is a great deal of unrest in the city and the Commissioner of Police has ordered the Vice Squad to enforce the ban on May Day demonstrations at all costs. The result is a disaster with many dead and injured, and a state of emergency is declared in the Communist strongholds of the city.
This is a moody, atmospheric crime noir and is the first of a series of crime noirs, featuring cop Gereon Rath. There was something strange about his job in Cologne and he’s now lucky to be in the Vice department at Alexanderplatz police department. He wants to transfer to the Homicide department in Berlin, but first he has to prove himself in Vice. With the decadence that was Berlin before the rise of the Nazi Party, there’s plenty of vice to investigate in Berlin in 1929— drugs, the skin trade, and others things in the underworld. Rath steps into a hotbed of activity including murders, possible smuggled Russian gold, drug running, and police corruption.
Few people are who they say they are and Gereon Rath is himself a bit suspect. The story is long and fairly complicated but well-done and does a wonderful job of evoking the tone of the late Weimar period, this book never really caught fire with me, either in neither tone nor action. There are plenty twists and turns as battles his own demons while confronting the reality of both internal department politics and the looming blackness of the Nazi era. It s a long mystery with excellent character development and while I am sure there will be those who will find it to be slowing moving. I find this interesting in that I seldom read novels of this kind and found this to be tight and fast moving read. I said almost nothing about the plot because to do so would spoil the read for many.