Rabb's Berlin trilogy began with ROSA, continued with SHADOW AND LIGHT and
wraps up with THE SECOND SON, which shifts the action from Berlin to the
Spanish Civil War.
the tale kicks off in Berlin. The year in 1936, the Olympics are about to
begin, but Detective-Inspector Hoffner has problems. He's retiring from Kripo
after decades of dedicated service. Now run by goons brought in to strong-arm
the Nazi government's policies, Kripo isn't what it used to be and it's
certainly not a place for a cop with Jewish heritage.
cuts himself loose, retiring with full pension, before they can throw him out.
All is not rosy in the detective's world. His eldest son, Sasha, has become a die-hard
Nazi and they are no longer in contact with one another. Georg, his youngest,
is in Spain as a photographer when war breaks out and the boy goes missing. All
Hoffner has is Georg's young wife and his grandson left in Berlin and he soon
turns his back on them in favor of searching through Spain for his missing son.
there, Hoffner gets caught up in the game or war. Shady characters abound,
corrupt army officials, gun-runners, profiteers, and the quiet incursion of
German forces and supplies injected into the mix in the hopes of affecting the
outcome. And there might be more to Georg's presence in Spain than his father
knew. Is Georg still alive? Can Hoffner save his own skin let alone his son's?
questions drive the narrative which clearly creeps into Alan Furst territory
with mostly enjoyable results. Rabb is great at creating a sense of place and
turning that ability to a new canvas, Spain, his evocation of the locales rings
true. You start to sweat by the second page and you'll be squinting into an
imaginary sun by the time you finish the first section.
plot also takes some interesting turns. And it's a good thing as the elements
of the story show their age. The devil-may-care scoundrels, the female doctor
trying to make a difference love interest for Hoffner in a world torn about.
There's really nothing new here and experienced readers will have no trouble at
all in untangling these simple story knots. The novel's pace also gets bogged
down with endless exposition and characters explaining everything to each
other. I found the thrust of the story was lost on me about halfway through and
the search for the missing son, the needle in a very large haystack, gets
sidetracked a bit too much.
THE SECOND SON is not a bad book. Rabb can write and it shows. Also, seeing
Hoffner's journey being brought to an end in a satisfactory, and memorable,
manner that lies outside the fence-straddling of many thrillers desperate to
appeal to a mass audience is very refreshing. Rabb's characters make hard
choices and must live with the consequences. In a world poised for a descent
into hell, there are no pure happy endings. Hoffner and his loved ones walk
that hard road for us and it's their humanity that shines through even when the
THE SECOND SON holds up as a standalone novel
though I would recommend the entire trilogy so you can fully appreciate the
events of the third novel. ROSA, SHADOW AND LIGHT, and THE SECOND SON are not
classics but they are good, solid reads that take chances. I recommend them