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Wednesday, August 6, 2014



With the current boom in self-publishing and print-on-demand, there's been a veritable tsunami of swill thrust upon unsuspecting readers and this amateurish, horrible offering is, without a doubt, one of the worst books I've ever been subjected to. As it has garnished 100s of 5-star reviews, and is sometimes offered for free as there is a, heaven forbid, sequel, I thought a review here might help my fellow Berlin Noir fans to decide whether or not they want to waste their time on this god-awful novel.

You've seen the plot before: pure German falls for Jewish daughter from the Jewish family that has taken him in during the calm before the storm of Nazism. The young man, Detrick, has an alcoholic, one-dimensional, abusive father. The doting doormat mother trying to keep things together. His best friend is swayed by Hitler and joins the SS gleefully when the Nazis come to power. The Jewish girl's brother resents Detrick and sees him as a symbol of all that non-Jews are doing to him and his people, goes out and kills a member of the Hitler Youth, then flees to Poland to take up with the resistance. Detrick's sister joins the Lebonsborn program after getting used and discarded by a married SS officer. Detrick's lover has a crippled brother and the mother and father are easily convinced that handing him over to the Nazis to be "cured" after the Nazis have made their intentions plain makes perfect sense. Any student of the time period can guess how this plays out. And one family relocates to Chicago for a subplot that adds absolutely nothing to the main story and remains unresolved at the end.

Roberta Kagan tries to weave a tale through all of these historical aspects of Nazi
Germany and fails miserably. Paper-thin characters recite Wikipedia information as they clunk from one plot point to the other. Whole whacks of history are just sumarized in one or two paragraphs before the next short, boring chapter. I could go on, but it's unfair to attack the storyline too much because plots are subjective. What doesn't work for one reader, enthralls another.

So I will get to the biggest problem with this book: The writing is ATROCIOUS! ALL MY LOVE, DETRICK reads like a poorly executed college English assignment. Utterly amateurish, utterly uninteresting, repetitious and without any merit at all. It would be easy to not stomp too hard on the book because Kagan obviously has little to no experience as a novelist - I'll not say she has no writing ability at all because, clearly an amateur, her ability could improve - but she published this to go shoulder to shoulder with "real" books and clearly has a LOT of internet friends willing to post 5-star reviews to convince readers that her book rocks and hand over their hard-earned money!

This book, unequivocally, does NOT rock. Even as a free download, I feel cheated. This book should never have been published simply because the writing is a thousand miles from what passes as readable prose. Without question, this is the worst Berlin Noir novel I've read to date. My advice, readers, is to steer clear of it. It's a waste of money, a waste of time and, even free, not worth more than two seconds of your attention. ANY book will be better than this. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


A Review of David Downing's POTSDAM STATION


POTSDAM STATION is the fourth of the six John Russell Berlin Noir thrillers by David Downing and it's typical of the three that precede it. The events of the three previous novels have resulted in Russell, his lover Effi and their son Paul being scattered to the four winds. Russell has fled Berlin for London, Effi fights the good right in the Berlin resistance and young Paul is a German soldier tasked with defending Berlin from the encroaching Soviet troops. Berlin lies in ruins, citizens starve, are executed by fanatics, and cower in desperate fear of what the Soviets will do to them once the city falls. Russell, seeing the coming doom, returns to Berlin to get Effi and Paul out of there before it's too late. In order to this, he has to agree to spy for the Russians... again.

What follows breaks no new ground in this series. Downing's novels are very talky and rely far too heavily on period details. When the details overshadow the plot, the book's got problems. And that's what happens with POTSDAM STATION. Don't get me wrong, the details ARE there and the hell-on-earth that was Berlin in the closing weeks of the war are accurately portrayed.

This is a three-pronged narrative. We get Russell's journey back to Berlin alongside Effi's work for the resistance and Paul's troubles in the rag-tag army trying to defend the city. The novel jumps around in these three storylines and none of them move terribly quickly. Russell is not an engaging lead. Rather he's annoying, whiny and ineffectual. Effi fares better but her storyline is improbable as she's a famous actress yet can move about and no one seems to recognize her. Endless details in each section bog the novel down as well. These descriptions, for the most part, are often all we get in a scene as nothing of any great consequence occurs. People travel to meet people (the trip agonizingly laid out), they talk, observe, muse and then it's on to the next setting. As in the other novels in the series, the ending is rushed, relying on coincidence and quick happenings to wrap things up. It's as if Downing runs out of period details from his research and figures enough is enough.

I consider POTSDAM STATION, along with the other Downing books, as middle of the road Berlin Noir. They aren't as bad as Rebecca Cantrell's offerings and don't come anywhere near the level of excellence of Kerr's Gunther series. If you're in the mood to revisit Berlin in the last days of the war, then I'd recommend this one. If you feel like and edge-of-your-seat thriller, look elsewhere.