The Sleepwalkers

Written by Paul Grossman
Review by Ann Chamberlin

In 1932, during the final weeks of the Weimar Republic, Jewish Detective Willi Kraus pursues the evildoers responsible for luring foreign women with beautiful legs to horrific medical experimentation and their deaths, all the while seeking to smuggle his motherless sons, other family members and finally himself to safety beyond the rising Nazi tide. Such historic figures as Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein and Josef Mengele put in cameo appearances.

This is the world of the musical Cabaret without music and drawn out to three hundred pages, more time for my suspension of disbelief to be shaken loose on a number of occasions. We are reminded in a concluding note that medical experimentation on human guinea pigs did not become a Nazi sin until after the period covered in this book, and I could not get over my sure prior knowledge of this fact. The drive for a page turner left loose ends and a sometimes-clumsy handling of time, searches that seem to have no other purpose than to reveal the squalor and corruption of Berlin at this period. Often, our characters could have worked harder to reach their goals. The world the author paints is so like ours, I found it frustrating to be given the impression that, no, the Germans who saw the rise of the Nazis were nothing like us at all, but a bunch of inhuman monsters. The detached characters seem to be living in test tubes, but perhaps that is the message. Still, I have no doubt that the subject matter and thriller format will find a wide audience.