Narrator: Simon Prebble
Series: Berlin Trilogy #2
Published by Tantor Audio on May 28, 2009
Genres: Historical Mystery
Length: 11 hrs 55 ins
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Berlin, between the two world wars. When an executive at the renowned Ufa film studios is found dead floating in his office bathtub, it falls to Nikolai Hoffner, a chief inspector in the Kriminalpolizei, to investigate. With the help of Fritz Lang (the German director) and Alby Pimm (leader of the most powerful crime syndicate in Berlin), Hoffner finds his case taking him beyond the world of film and into the far more treacherous landscape of Berlin’s sex and drug trade, the rise of Hitler’s Brownshirts (the SA), and the even more astonishing attempts by onetime monarchists to rearm a post-Versailles Germany. Being swept up in the case are Hoffner's new lover, an American talent agent for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and his two sons: Georg, who has dropped out of school to work at Ufa, and Sascha, his angry, older son, who, unknown to his father, has become fully entrenched in the new German Workers Party as the aide to its Berlin leader, Joseph Goebbels.
I thoroughly enjoyed Shadow and Light, but man, is it complicated. It starts off with an apparent suicide at a film studio, but Hoffner knows it’s not that simple. Hoffner is a good character, determined and solid, but horrible at relationships, he’s drinks too much, and is probably too friendly with the criminal backbone of the city. On the other hand, it seems like the criminals are more help than the system. The more he digs, the more grime and muck rises. And maybe that’s how Berlin was at the time. Somehow, the crime syndicate, the sex trade, the movie studios, the rise of Nazism, all intertwine. To be honest, I’m not sure I got it all, but it didn’t matter. Rabb immerses you in this world, and if you don’t quite understand every bit, that’s okay, because I don’t think the characters do either. We meet several historical figures, but I don’t know enough about the time and place to know where fiction and history touch.
There were a lot of characters. The narrator did a good job differentiating voices, but I’ll admit to being confused about who was who sometimes. I think that’s more to do with the scope of the story and the writing than the narrations. Also, for me, a lot of the names are unusual, which can add to the difficulty when there are so many people to keep straight.
For me, this one is more about the characters and setting than the actual plot. The twists and turns are a result of the time, place and people, not the needs of the mystery, if that makes sense. For me that worked well, but if you want a clear, straight, traditional mystery, this isn’t it.