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Tuesday, October 22, 2013


A Review of Rebecca Cantrell's A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES

They say you have your entire life to write you first novel and six months to write the second. Nowhere is the truth of that statement more evident than in Rebecca Cantrell's follow-up to A TRACE OF SMOKE, the first Hannah Vogel mystery.

The novel begins with an interesting bang. Vogel and her adopted son, Anton (fathered by Ernst Röhm), are travelling on a zeppelin when it is diverted to Germany where she and the boy are taken into custody by Röhm's minions. For this reader, this was the only interesting section of the novel. Betrayed, in the hands of the enemy, Hitler's purge underway - what's not for any Berlin Noir fan to love?

Well, the author answers this question. It turns out that Röhm is going to force Vogel to marry him in the hopes that he can dispel the rumours of his homosexuality - a crime under the Nazi regime. The boy is to be raised up to be a good little Nazi monster whom Vogel will never see again. Then Hitler himself shows up to witness Röhm's arrest and Vogel dodges a bullet. Röhm, however, is not so lucky.

Now Vogel must find her son. And this is all the novel is about from this point on. The Nazi purge is just there as a paper-thin backdrop. What follows from this promising beginning is Vogel's return to Berlin after striking a deal with Röhm's bitch of a mother. Seems Mrs. Röhm wants her son's body for burial and won't surrender Anton until the intrepid Vogel has Röhm's body returned. She's holding on to the wedding dress Röhm was going to force her to wear as collateral. I'm not making this up.

With the stage set, Vogel goes about getting Mother Röhm her son's body while looking for her son. A couple of betrayals, a rickety frame for murder and more romance are the result in what has to be one of the thinnest plots of any Berlin Noir novel we've reviewed to date. The writing is flat and uninspired, historical details are sparse though accurate and really do not create the sense of place so crucial to historical works of this kind. Especially an historical even as rich in potential as Hitler's purge.

Summing up, A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES is bloody awful. The history exists solely to justify the title and the plot is so thin you can see through it. Put this one at the bottom of your 'to read' list or, better yet, skip it altogether. You won't be missing much.

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