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Blackout

BLACKOUT . . . Between the covers

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B0December 1939. Berlin. The snow lies deep and crisp and even, and Kriminalpolizei Inspector Horst Shenke is summoned to the Reich Security Main Office to meet Oberführer Heinrich Müller, a protege of Reinhardt Heydrich and recently appointed head of the Gestapo. Müller has a tricky problem in the shape of a former film star, Gerda Korzeny. Her husband is a lawyer and Nazi Party member who specialises in redrafting potentially awkward pieces of existing legislation in favour of the Party. And now Gerda is dead. Found by a railway track with awful head wounds. She had also been brutally raped. But what does this have to do with Heinrich Müller? His problem is that Gerda Korzeny was known to be having an affair with Oberst Karl Dorner, an officer in the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence organisation, and the Gestapo man wants the matter dealt with quickly and discreetly.

We learn that Schenke is a very good copper, but that his career has stalled because he has, thus far, refused to become a Party member. In his younger days, Schenke was a well-known racing driver, until a near-fatal accident forced him to quit the sport. His only legacy from those heady days is a permanently damaged knee. He is romantically involved with a woman called Karin Canaris, and if that surname rings a bell with WW2 history buffs, yes, she is the niece of the real-life head of the Abwehr, Admiral William Canaris.

Although he initially believes that the case will not bring him into direct conflict with local Nazi officials, Schenke’s discovery that Berlin has a serial killer on the loose is of little comfort, as everyone in the Party, from Goebbels down to the lowliest apartment block supervisor is anxious to preserve public confidence in these early months of the war.  Oberst Dorner takes a step or two down the ladder of Schenke’s suspects when the killer strikes again, but this time fails to finish the job. The victim survives with bruises and shock, but Schenke finds himself in a tight corner when, after investigating the young woman’s several false identities, he discovers that her real name is Ruth Frankel, and she is Jewish. In normal times, her racial profile shouldn’t matter, but these are not normal times, and Party officials take a dim view of wasting valuable resources on any case involving Jews.

Heinrich_MüllerOberführer Müller, (right) in an attempt to keep tracks on what Schenke is doing, sends a young Gestapo officer called Liebvitz to shadow the Kripo officer, and that allows us to meet a rather unusual fellow. These days, we would probably say he has Asperger’s Syndrome, as he takes everything literally, has no sense of humour and a formidable eye for detail. He is also a crack shot, and this skill serves both Schenke and the department well by the end of the book.

Simon Scarrow cleverly allows Schenke makes one or two mistakes, which makes for a very tense finale, but also establishes him as a human being like so many other fictional coppers before him – tired to the point of exhaustion, frustrated by officialdom and trouble by his conscience. Before the book ends, we also meet the deeply sinister – despite a superficial icy charm – Reinhardt Heydrich.

Comparisons between the worlds of Horst Schenke, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and David Downing’s John Russell are inevitable, but not in any way damaging. A good as they are, neither Kerr nor Downing have taken out a copyright on the world of WW2 Berlin. Simon Scarrow shines a new light on a city and a time that many of us think we know well. He creates vivid new characters – and revitalises our enduring fascination with some of the historical monsters that stalked the earth in the 1930s and 40s. I sincerely hope that this becomes a series. If so, it will run for a long time, and grip many thousands of readers. Blackout was first published in hardback in March this year, and this Headline paperback is available now.
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ON MY SHELF …26th November 2016

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Death In Winter by Ian McFadyen
There’s always room for yet another fictional Detective Inspector. Steve Carmichael – a long standing member of the DI’s trade union – returns for his sixth case set, as before, in the villages and small towns of rural Lancashire. The boxes are all steadily being ticked for a wonderful traditional Christmas in the Carmichael family home. Deep snow all around? Tick. Just four days to go? Tick. Tree and decorations up? Tick. Pressies all bought? Tick. No urgent cases down at the nick? …… Oh, wait. Hayley Bell vanishes after taking a train home. Her husband and friends are decidedly odd, and there’s a definite whiff of murder souring the scent of mince pies and mulled wine. Death In Winter is just out, and you can check options here.

Mercy Killing by Lisa Cutts
The author needs no researchers to check up on correct police procedure – she is still a serving officer herself, so expect unvarnished authenticity in this tale of the death of a sex offender. To the echoes of, “He had it coming..” and “Serves him right, the dirty bastard..” from the local community, the East Rise police must grit their teeth and investigate the suspicious death of Albie Woodville with just as much tenacity as if he had been a pillar of the community. DI Harry Powell keeps his team on their mettle, but all the officers are disturbed and shocked by the secrets they uncover as they search for the killer. Follow the link to see buying options for Mercy Killing

Blackout by Marc Elsberg
This has been around in one form or another since 2012, but since it is billed as “a 21st century high-concept disaster thriller”, it is probably safe to assume that the latest edition has been made future-proof. Elsberg (aka Marcus Rafelsberger) was born in Vienna, and after training as an industrial designer worked as a strategy consultant and creative director in the advertising world. Blackout has a simple but rather scary premise. Quite simply, hackers decide to shut down Europe. They start in Milan, with the electricity grid. Then they rack up the attacks further afield. Half the continent is plunged into darkness while  people freeze and struggle to find food and water. Elsberg turns this nightmare scenario into an entertaining but disturbing thriller. Check Blackout on Amazon.

In Too Deep by Samantha Hayes
From trans-continental cyber meltdown to a psychological thriller on a smaller scale, but equally as terrifying. When your husband takes a stroll down the road to buy a newspaper, you think nothing of it. But when he has been gone an hour, then twelve hours, then a day, it is obvious that something sinister has happened. So it is with Gina and Rick. Rick has been gone four months, and as well as coping with daughter Hannah’s emotional problems, Gina has become numb with acceptance. But then a mysterious ‘phone call turns her life on its head, and she makes a decision which threatens to have fatal consequences. In Too Deep came out in Kindle earlier this year, but will be available in paperback just before Christmas. Check the details here.

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