Babylon Berlin

Written by German Niall Sellars (trans.) Volker Kutscher
Review by Doug Kemp

Berlin in May 1929. Detective Inspector Gereon Rath has been transferred from Cologne to work in the Vice Division of the Berlin Police, based in Alexanderplatz. As well as growing levels of vice to suppress in the capital, this is a time of political ferment for Germany. Rath gets involved in a case that concerns the killing of an unidentified Russian and uncovers a trail that plunges him into all kinds of unexpected dangers and excitement. Rath is ambitious and benefits from having a father as a senior police officer in the Rhineland. But he is possibly not as clever as he sometimes thinks he is. He uncovers a plot involving smuggled Russian gold and guns and has to negotiate carefully through the tortuous intrigues.

This is the first in the Gereon Rath Berlin detective series. The Berlin of 1929 is described in forensic historical detail: the bohemian nightlife, the new construction blooming throughout the city, and the growth of extreme and polarised political activities are all portrayed with an engaging exactitude. Berlin stories set in the 1920s always have that appeal for the reader of a city that is on the cusp of entering global pre-eminence, yet with the knowledge of the destruction and damnation that was to be visited upon it but a few short years later. The plot becomes quite elaborate, but the author is always in control of events; it is a police procedural, and the narrative speeds along expertly