I should preface this review by stating for the record that
I don't like serial killer fiction. Sure, I fell under the spell of Silence of
the Lambs just like everyone else and still love that movie. But the tsunami of
serial killer fiction that resulted from the success of the movie (and books)
has completely turned me off the sub-genre. I just wanted to mention that up
front before we get to the review. Now on with the show.
In case you haven't guessed it by now, The Silent Death, Volker Kutscher's
second entry in his best selling Gereon Rath series, gives us the hunt
for a serial killer in Berlin in early 1930. The book kicks off with the
gruesome death of a film star on the set of her new film - a talkie. The film
industry is making the transition from silent films to sound productions and
the not so friendly competition between film companies gets thrown in the mix
here. With spies in both camps, the death of Betty Winter is quickly put down
as a result of the spying and sabotage reaching deadly levels.
But then another actress disappears, and another.
Is a serial killer stalking the Berlin film industry? Not
necessary to play coy with this at this point. The answer is yes.
What follows is a mixed bag. I don't think it's fair for me
to delve too deeply into the serial killer aspect of the plot. I'm sick to
death of such stories and thus cannot fairly comment on how it plays out here.
If you're a fan of such fiction, you should be on solid ground here. Let's
leave it at that.
As for the rest of the novel, Kutsher presents us with
something of a buffet. And with mixed results. There is WAY too much going on
in this novel - both related to his work and in his personal life. These
multiple plot lines bog down the book. We are treated to Rath breaking up with
his current girl friend, re-uniting with his previous love interest, he gets a
dog with the prerequisite clichés attached to such story lines, his father wants
him working on the side on a case with political implications, one of his old
friends is visiting. In short, Rath is all over the place here and the book
suffers as a result. After an impressive debut in Babylon Berlin, this second outing left me flat. From main plot to
endless subplots, the book became a slog to finish. Well, as they say, you've
got your whole life to write your first book and six months to write your
second. I don't know if that's the case with The Silent Death but it sure reads this way.
So much for the bad. As he did in Babylon Berlin, Kutscher excels in period details. The book is set
in 1930 and you can see the Nazi influence building via the goings on at the
funeral for Horst Wessel. The novel is steeped in period detail that never
seems shoe-horned in or gets anywhere near info dump levels. I don't know if
the massive amount of historical nuggets result from Kutscher being German and
thus having access to materials non-German speaking writers might miss in their
research or whether or not Kutscher is just very very good at what he does, but
the period details are always interesting, precise and vivid. Again, as such
details are never obtrusive, it's always a treat to come upon one while
The Silent Death
is a novel ripe for those who just enjoy getting involved in the lives of its
characters. Plot driven it is not. This reader prefers the focus to be on the
plot - especially when one is dealing with a police procedural. If you fall
into the first category and enjoy fiction based in this time period, you'll
most likely enjoy the book more than I did. If you're in the latter, the novel
will most likely disappoint. It's not a terrible novel, rather, it suffers from
trying to be too good and too much. I'm hoping the 3rd in the series will get
an English translation as I'd like to give Kutscher a chance to get back on
track. Put this one in the middle third of Berlin Noir fiction. Better than
most but not quite as good as the best the genre has to offer.