The year is 1930. With talkies on the rise, the age of silent cinema is coming to a close, and it seems there’s someone on the Berlin streets who’s not quite ready to let it go. Cinema starlets are showing up dead at an alarming rate and, as if Inspector Gereon Rath doesn’t already have enough to contend with, his father calls in a favour for his old friend, the Mayor of Cologne. Can Rath keep the politics of policing at bay long enough to solve the mystery of the murdered actresses? Or are his ties to the criminal underworld about to rear their ugly heads once more?
Volker Kutscher‘s The Silent Death barrels along at a much quicker pace than its predecessor, though it’s still packed with the same rich, historical details that made Babylon Berlin so fascinating. But with the era already established and a distinctly non-political villain on the scene, The Silent Death neatly sidesteps the need for that same level of historical context and is an easier read for it – well, as easy a lengthy novel involving gruesomely murdered actresses can be, of course.
Rath, too, is evolving. He’s repaired his relationship with Charley, he spends time with a friend from his normally out-of-bound past, and he finally forms bonds with his co-workers. He even gets a dog. He’s still a suspicious son of a bitch, and his debts to the Berlin underworld are never too far behind him, but there’s a new openness to his character, a growing likeability that wasn’t there before. Leads don’t have to be likeable, of course, but when your books are as weighty as Kutscher’s are, it sure does help to be able to root for them.
With its film industry focus, its shift away from heavy politics, and, of course, its cute doggo co-star, it’s fair to say that The Silent Death might have a broader appeal than Babylon Berlin. Bolstered by yet another impressive translation from Niall Seller, its accessible, exciting, and bloody hard to put down.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Silent Death by Volker Kutscher is available now through Allen & Unwin.