A Trace of Smoke
Trolling for a story at Berlin’s Hall of the Unnamed Dead, crime reporter Hannah Vogel is shocked to find a photograph of her younger brother Ernst posted among the dead. The discovery launches Hannah on a mission to find his killer. However, this quest is complicated by Ernst’s cross-dressing homosexual lifestyle, and she soon finds herself immersed in the wild and dark nightlife of pre-Nazi Germany Berlin. Hannah’s life is further complicated by the arrival of an orphaned boy who insists she is his mother. As her investigation unfolds, she finds that Ernst is a man of many secrets and even more lovers, one of whom leads her into the highest circles of the up-and-coming Nazi party.
Ms. Cantrell’s story is told with competence and style. The plot is complicated, intelligent, and well crafted. As a mystery, it is first rate. On the historical side, she certainly knows a great deal about the Berlin of 1931 and displays this knowledge at every opportunity. However, it seems that her Fraulein Vogel is a woman of 21st-century American sensibilities plunked down into pre-Nazi Germany. Free of the prejudices of her time and place, she is remarkably unfettered by the ambiguities that led many of the Germans of her time to embrace the Nazi promise of a better tomorrow. Thus this historical novel stands as a very good mystery, entertaining and satisfying, but if one is searching for insight into the Germany of the early ´30s, it might be best to look elsewhere.