Goldstein by Volker Kutscher

Review published on May 18, 2018.

Gereon Rath is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting characters in crime fiction. Maybe it’s because this is fresher in my mind than the last outing for Rath, but it feels like these novels are getting better and better. Of course, Goldstein is only the third in the series to be translated into English so far, but already it is a fascinating chronicle of pre-WWII Germany, particularly the Weimar Republic and Berlin. Each instalment is a layered mystery, intense and thrilling. There are seven novels in this German series, which began with Babylon Berlin. We first met detective Rath off the train from Köln, looking for a new job in the capital city. For reasons that become clear, he has had to make a quick exit from his home town. Rath fits the mould of the lone detective perfectly, but his character is nuanced and original; not just because of his desire to go his own way but by an ambition and ego that can lead to him doing a lot of damage before he finally solves the case in hand. In The Silent Death, we saw Rath forge some unhealthy alliances, most notably with Dr M, a prominent city gangster. Rath wants to be right, wants to get the answers first and is keen on climbing the greasy pole. So when Goldstein opens in 1931, the Berlin detective is still trying to recoup his reputation within Kripo (the criminal police) following a couple of run ins with the powers that be. He’s lucky he has friends in high places, but even they can’t speed his promotion at this time; he is in the dog house.

Goldstein paints a picture of the late Weimar period and the Nazis are increasingly influencing events in the capital city. It’s all part of the social, political and economic backdrop to the novel. The novel is a beautifully crafted and researched reimagining of a dynamic vibrant city being corrupted and crushed by the Nazi influence and the growing strife with the communists. The rise of an alternative state that is stealthily grasping the reins of power by infiltrating the echelons of bureaucracy. The Nazi gangs are taking over the streets. The death of a nasty thug, Horst Wessel, featured in The Silent Death helps set the tone of this novel. The man was lionised in death by the Nazis, an icon for the fascist cause, the Horst Wessel song becomes an anthem the party. Germany is still recovering from WWI, struggling under the burden of reparations and the stock market crash. Work is hard to come by, life has less value than it should and extremism is becoming mainstream. Kutscher vividly realises this backdrop in detail; the bars and cafes, the restaurants, hotels and streets. He brilliantly captures the cynicism and the hope of the age.

Alex is 18, a tough girl/woman who knows how to take care of herself; her partner is Benny, he is only 15 but they make a good team. The pair have broken into KaDeWe, the Berlin Harrods, and are ransacking the jewellery displays when the police bust in mob-handed. Thanks to a fire escape, Alex makes it out. From the street below she sees Benny perched on a ledge being dislodged by a police boot. He falls to his death and now Alex is on the run. She turns to Kalli, the fence, for money but he won’t help because knowing Alex has become dangerous. Kalli is murdered in any case and Alex realises that ‘they’ are after her, she doesn’t yet know that she was set up in the first place. Kripo detective Lange has been saddled with the task of interviewing his colleagues about the death of the boy. The cop closest to the boy when he fell was Sgt. Major Kuschke but the police are closing ranks. Charly, Rath’s on-off girlfriend, works for Special Counsel Weber, she gets involved with helping Alex as someone is cleaning house.

The relationship with Charly is suffering as Rath gets a new assignment (she has news he just doesn’t have time to hear). Rath is on 24-hour surveillance of Abraham ‘Handsome Abe’ Goldstein. Goldstein is a member of a Brooklyn gangster syndicate and a killer for hire. The FBI have warned the German authorities of his arrival. So what is he doing in Berlin? Initially, Goldstein gives Rath the runaround, nothing much happens. As ever Rath thinks he knows better, he gets distracted by Dr M (Marlow) and his gang. It isn’t very difficult for Goldstein to give Rath the slip. And we’ve only just begun the story.

Kutscher knows how to weave complex strands into a story to produce a well crafted tale; exciting and intellectually stimulating. Crucially you can feel for these characters. I may have made Rath sound corrupt and selfish but he’s a Philip Marlowe type at heart, given his own moral compass he is trying to do the right thing nearly all the time. The fact that he is an anti-hero makes him more interesting. As the series develops it will be fascinating to see how he deals with the Nazis, currently his disdain has got him into trouble he was able to get out of. As I said in my review of The Silent Death, Rath displays the qualities of the great loner; little respect for authority, bloody mindedness, a nose for trouble, a thick skin, an argumentative soul, and a distrusting nature. Exactly what you need in this kind of murky world.

Kutscher writes literary crime fiction that reads as a page turner, you will laugh and thrill at different times. There is a poetic balance to Goldstein and it is noir of exceptional quality. Fans of Philip Kerr’s anti-hero Bernie Gunther will recognise something here and love Gereon Rath. I’m already pining for the next instalment. You will have fun with this truly entertaining and deliciously dark novel. Full marks to Sandstone Press for recognising the quality of the German original and getting the novels translated (Goldstein is superbly rendered into English by Niall Seller).

Paul Burke 5/5

Goldstein by Volker Kutscher
Sandstone Press Ltd 9781912240128 pbk May 2018

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