Dead of Night (A Berlin Wartime Thriller)

Written by Simon Scarrow
Review by Edward James

No other occupation so fascinates the public as the police or has given rise to such a prolific and popular literary genre as the ‘police procedural’. It follows a strict formula: a senior police officer tracking down and confronting violent criminals. In the search for originality authors have set their police/crime novels in a huge variety of settings.

Simon Scarrow is not the first police/crime author to choose Nazi Germany, but he has chosen a less-explored moment in its short history, the first winter of the war, with war declared but hostilities yet to begin in earnest. The attraction of Nazi Germany is, of course, its moral ambivalence: who is the criminal when the state itself disregards the law and all moral standards?

The central character is Inspector Horst Schenke of the Berlin police, a zealous policeman but no Nazi. While investigating a murder he stumbles upon Aktion T4, the secret Nazi programme to ‘cleanse’ the German race of mentally handicapped children. The murderers he must hunt down are the children’s vengeful parents.

This would be a good police/crime novel in any setting, but the moral ambiguity gives it a very especial edge. It is a tense, fast-moving story with plenty of action, culminating in a vividly described shoot-out. As good a police procedural as you can get, but with a difference.