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Straight into Darkness    by Faye Kellerman order for
Straight into Darkness
by Faye Kellerman
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is something different from Faye Kellerman's usual mystery - born, she tells us 'of my passionate desire to connect to a hidden part of my father's life' (stationed in Germany after World War II, her father communicated with concentration camp survivors in Yiddish). The novel begins in 1929 Munich, where Kriminalpolizei chief investigator Axel Berg balances the demands of family life, his young Jewish mistress, Margot, and the investigation of what seem to be serial killings. A variety of well-dressed women end up strangled, each missing one shoe.

The story opens with Axel chasing young Brownshirts in his pyjamas after they throw stones at his apartment building. The city is reeling from years of inflation, and support for Adolf Hitler is on the rise, making Axel and other progressives extremely uneasy. The first dead woman was married to Anton Gross, a wealthy Jew. Pressed by his ruthless, aristocratic superior, Hauptkommissar Martin Volker (whose own superiors are pushing him hard) for a quick solution to the murder, Berg reluctantly takes Gross into custody, only to be attacked by a mob led by Hitler.

There are more dead women, in parallel with the build-up of support for the Austrian and his Nazis. Connections are found to the Russian Kommunisten. Hitler uses the deaths - especially the latest in which the woman's child is also killed - to promote his own agenda, and the police cannot control the resulting crowds of demonstrators. Volker plays careful politics, his own interests always at the forefront. And Berg tries to be a good policeman and do what is right, while being steadily sucked into a whirlpool of betrayal. Though he often makes compromises for survival, he does eventually make a stand, for his family's sake.

I enjoyed this novel as a story of a decent German, balancing justice and survival in a world dissolving into madness around him. While by no means perfect, Axel Berg is a protagonist, with whom readers can sympathize and identify. Faye Kellerman's fans should appreciate the change of setting and style from her usual offerings in Straight into Darkness, which will also attract readers new to this author.

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