W. Jeter is no stranger to world building and off-beat characters. Often
compared to the late, great Philip K. Dick, Jeter cut his teeth on
ground-breaking sci-fi, horror and media tie-in novels, penning not only a
trilogy of Star Wars tales but also Blade Runner, Star Trek and Alien Nation
instalments to add to his award-winning work such NOIR, FAREWELL HORIZONTAL
and DR. ADDER.
Jeter steps into the Berlin Noir ring and enters in style. THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is no pot-boiler, it's not an
edge-of-your-seat thriller and may be the first pure Berlin Noir novel to
feature a supernatural element.
story is really three separate plot elements that later combine. Set just
before the start of the war, an insular religious sect, the Lazarenes, is
introduced and, like so many other religions, is being persecuted by Nazism.
Their telling mark is mis-matched eye color: one brown, one blue and tattoos
that represent Jesus's scars from the cross. But one Lazarene has worked around
this by having his tattoos removed and a child with a non-Lazarene - the result
is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed goddess named Marte.
Marte is soon enlisted in the Lebensborn
breeding program and moves to what is nothing more than a brothel where pure SS
men can impregnate pure Germanic women, leaving the women, and the program to raise good little Nazis free from
"genetic taint". Marte does her duty, and incurs the wrath of the
resident beauty who eventually winds up raising the child once Marte is kicked
out of the program since her offspring has the tell-tale mis-matched eye color
of the Lazarenes.
soon finds herself a budding star in the German film industry where Goebbels
becomes infatuated with her. Hitler won't stand for this race mixing and
Goebbels is forced to let her go. And go she does, to Hollywood, where she
becomes the mistress of a big shot producer. This proves to be short-lived as
Goebbels soon blackmails her to return to Berlin because he is obsessed with
her beauty. The war is well underway by this point and catastrophe looms. A
second plot thread touches on the woman raising Marte's child. Seen mostly
through photographs and film of the child growing up, this is the carrot
Goebbels dangles in front of Marte to keep her in line.
to these storylines, we see Marte's cousin, Pavli and his brother, who, along
with the other Lazarenes have been rounded up and sent to a concentration camp
where a fanatical SS Doctor Ritter wants to "study" them to find the
secret of the strange power they possess. All three plotlines become connected
later in the novel.
THE KINGDOM OF
requires patient reading, it does not hit the ground running. The novel begins
very slowly, building gradually as we are treated to very well-written, though
often repetitive, scenes of Marte being used by the men around her as she
bounces from bed to bed between Hollywood and Berlin. I'll admit this slow
start initially soured me on the book, and I lost patience with it on more than
one occassion, but I'm glad I stuck with it because the novel delivers.
the Lazarenes enter the concentration camp, a third of the way through the
book, the story gathers momentum as the noose tightens around Germany. The camp
scenes are harrowing and historically accurate. As someone who delved into the
history of the camps for my own novel (here and here), Jeter's
research is sound and he recreates the camps with all their horror. As the
story picks up steam, we soon begin to learn the secret of the Lazarenes' power
and the last scenes in the rubble of Berlin are a spell-binding mix of the
fear, insanity, hopelessness, perseverance and tragedy of those final days of
the Nazi regime.
plot is such a delicate tapestry that it is difficult to provide more details
without ruining the reading experience. THE
KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is an engagingread - one which I urge readers to stick with through the slow start as the
final reading experience will be one you won't soon forget. You certainly won't
be able to look at Hitler's Propaganda Minister the same way again. Jeter is an
excellent writer and his handling of the characters, the history and his fantastical
plot are extraordinary. Part history, part horror story, part supernatural
fantasy, part character study, the novel's many levels will satisfy the most
The novel is
currently only available as an ebook through amazon for under $5. Despite a few
bumps at the outset, this is one of the best Berlin Noir novels I've read to
date. Don't miss it!
difficult to do Silesian Station
justice. All of the trappings are there. It is July, 1939. The Nazis have the
world by the collective throat and are dragging nations inexorably to war.
Half-American, half-British journalist John Russell and his son return to
Berlin during this last peaceful summer. Only things are not as serene as one
thought. Russell's lover has been arrested by the Gestapo. To get her out,
Russell has to agree to spy on the Russians for the Nazis. This he, of course,
agrees to do - fully intending to be a double agent and hope that the good guys
will help get him out of Germany when things really get ugly. Into this mix is
the sudden disappearance of a teenage Jewish girl sent to Berlin by her parents
for safety reasons. Choosing the palm of the Nazi fist of power seems an
unlikely place of safety but the parents are farmers who, for some reason,
think that anti-Semitism isn't that big a deal in Berlin. Go figure.
can see, for the most part, the pieces are here for what could have been a
ripper of a yarn. Instead Downing gives us an uninspired slog that moves at a
glacial pace. Russell strolls, drives, rides trains, drinks and eats in
restaurants and bars - all the while catching important history lessons that
show the reader that war is inevitable. With so many plot elements, it's hard
to imagine how Downing could give readers a 300 page novel where almost nothing
happens and yet he does. In his wanderings Russell hits Warsaw, goes to Moscow
to observe the pact between Hitler and Stalin, learns of the Nazis staging
violence to blame on the Poles as an excuse to go to war. He does nothing about
this things, however. He's just there so he can take the reader by the hand and
show us the situations.
missing girl element soon becomes the only plot thread of interest to anyone
with even a thumbnail sketch of the historical period as it is the only
storyline with a resolution that is unclear to the reader from the outset. Very
little in the way of detection goes on though and it isn't even Russell who
eventually breaks the case. The only part of the novel I enjoyed was the
resolution to the missing girl angle in the last 20 pages.
of Silesian Station is a
lesson in how to make a novel as dull as possible. Too talky, too many
historical details trowelled in to slow the story down even more than it would
seem possible to do. Cardboard characters, pedestrian prose and a hero who
needs help to tie his shoes all make for one of the, if not the, worst Berlin
Noir novels I have read to date.
If you're putting together a list of Berlin Noir novels to read, put Silesian Station at the bottom of your list. There are much better Berlin Noir reads out there.