The Children of Wrath
This thriller, set in Depression-era Berlin, is the prequel to the action in The Sleepwalkers and features a younger Willi Kraus, married and father to two young boys, trying to negotiate the demands of marriage and fatherhood while fending off the anti-Semitism rife in the Kripo, Berlin’s criminal investigation department. Kraus is furious when he is taken off a serial murder case and assigned to a seemingly mundane matter of tainted sausages, but the two investigations are horribly linked.
The Children of Wrath contains many of the elements also found in The Sleepwalkers—the rise of the Nazi party, the decadence of 1930s Berlin and the strange cults and societies that flourished there—but Kraus’ relatively lowly position in the Criminal Police brings out the era’s pervasive anti-Semitism much more strongly as Kraus, who has an excellent war record and holds the prestigious Iron Cross, constantly has to prove himself in both his professional and his private life. Grossman endows Kraus with a dry sense of humor and a passion for justice that carry him well through the wide variety of settings and scenes afforded by a cosmopolitan city on the brink of economic disaster and political violence.
Grossman’s writing has a European feel that lends a distinctive voice to his detective’s viewpoint. The plot is fast-paced and intriguing with some nicely gruesome touches, leading up to a page-turning climax. The somberly reflective ending suggests that no more Willi Kraus books will be forthcoming, and I think that’s a great shame. Grossman has imagined a character who both belongs intimately to his time and location and is set apart from it by the tragedy of his age, and the result is fascinating.