Shadow and Light: A Novel (Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner)

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9780312429416: Shadow and Light: A Novel (Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner)

Berlin, 1927. When a studio executive at Ufa -- the home of German Cinema -- is found dead in his office bathtub, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar Nikolai Hoffner is determined to uncover the truth behind what he firmly believes is murder. With the help of Fritz Lang and Alby Pimm, the leader of the most powerful crime syndicate in Berlin, Hoffner finds his case taking him beyond the world of film and into the far more treacherous landscape of Berlin's sex and drug trade, the rise of Hitler's Brownshirts, and the even more astonishing attempts by onetime monarchists to rearm a post-Versailles Germany. Jonathan Rabb's Shadow and Light is an electrifying thriller set in a darkly beautiful Berlin poised on the edge of destruction.

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About the Author:

Jonathan Rabb is the author of the novels Rosa, The Overseer, and The Book of Q. He lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

1927

They say it is rare to have good reason to leave Berlin. In the summer you have Wannsee, where the beaches are powdered and cool, and where for a few pfennigs even a clerk and his girl can manage a cabana for the day. The cold months bring the Ice Palast up near the Oranienburger Gate, or a quick trip out to Luna Park for the rides and amusements, where a bit of cocoa and schnapps can keep a family warm for the duration. And always there is that thickness of life in the east, where whiskey (if you`re lucky) and flesh (if not too old) play back and forth in a careless game of half-conscious decay. No reason, then, to leave the city with so much to keep a hand occupied.

And yet she was empty—not truly empty, of course, but thin to the point of concern. A phenomenon had descended on Berlin in early February, something no one could control or predict. Naturally they could explain it, but only in the language of high science and complexity. For the rest, it was simply Weisserhimmel—white sky—days on end of a too-bright sun without the sense to generate a trace of heat. Every forty years or so, it ca as a faint reminder of the city`s Nordic past, but history was not what Berliners chose to see. They were unnerved, their world made too clear, and so they left: businesses took unexpected holidays, schools indefinite recesses. It would all pass in a few days` time, but in the meanwhile, only the stalwarts were keeping the city alive.

Still, a few hours on the outskirts of town could do wonders. The sun might have been no less forgiving, but at least the surroundings were unfamiliar for a reason. Nonetheless, Nikolai Hoffner continued to glance into his rearview mirror as he drove. The Berlin he saw seemed compressed, small, her reflection strangely misleading. Even distance was doing little to help. He knew it best not to stare.

Instead, he opened his mouth wide and chanced a look at his teeth; they seemed to shake with the car`s motion. The tooth, he had been told, would have to come out. Funny, but it didn`t look all that different from the others, a bit thick, crooked, yellowed by tobacco. Hoffner had little faith in doctors, but he believed in pain, and that was enough. He was meant to rub some sort of ointment on his gums every few hours, at least until he could make time for an appointment. He was finding a brandy worked just as well.

The road to Neubabelsberg—the new road to Neubabelsberg—was straight and smooth, and for the price of a few pfennigs had you out to the film studios in less than half an hour. Someone had had the brilliant idea that Berlin needed a racing circuit, an asphalt totem to Mercedes and Daimler and Cadillac—although no one spoke of Cadillac—that ripped through the satiny pine needles and heavenly green leaves of the Grunwald. There had always been something of an escape when it came to the woods and lakes and beaches of the great, untamed forest. Now even that was gone, or going, eighteen kilometers uninterrupted. It seemed to dull everything.

With a quick press of the accelerator, Hoffner decided to test the old car. The exhaust roared and a hum rose as the rubber tires heated on the road. That was always the trick: to smell when they had reached their limit. These had the tang of disarmament surplus, the good military stuff that appeared now and then from some unknown warehouse. Everyone knew not to ask.

A big Buick hooted angrily from behind, and Hoffner checked his mirror again: the car had come from nowhere. He waved the driver on and watched as first the radiator, then the cabin, raced by. The Kriminalpolizei had yet to invest in speed. It would take something else to catch the criminals.

There was a sudden thud to his undercarriage—a parting gift from the Buick—and Hoffner waited for the agonizing scrape of metal on asphalt, but none came. Still, there might have been a puncture, or something wedged in where it wasn`t meant to be. Not that Hoffner knew anything about a car`s tending-to, but he reckoned he should take a look. After all, he would need a bit of grease on his face and hands to show at least some effort to the boy they would be sending out to tow him.

He brought the car down onto the grass and reached over for the two yellow flags he kept in the glove compartment. It was a pointless exercise—six meters in front, six meters behind—but someone had taken great pains to devise die Verkehrsnotverfahren (emergency traffic procedures), the totality of which filled a full eight pages in the bureau`s slender handbook on automobile operation: Who was he to question their essentialness? The flags blew aimless warning to the deserted road as Hoffner lay on his back and pulled himself under.

Surprisingly, everything looked to be in working order. Various metal shafts stretched across at odd angles. Metal boxes to hold other metal things were bolted to iron casings, and while there were two or three wires hanging down from their protective covers—each wrapped in some sort of black adhesive—nothing appeared to be torn or strained or even mildly put out. The wood above was worn but whole, and the tires looked somehow thicker from this vantage point. Hoffner imagined much the same might have been said of his own fifty-three-year-old frame: shoulders still wide even if the barrel chest was relocating south with ever-increasing speed. He caught sight of a line of blurred handwriting on one of the tires and slowly inched his way over. Closer in, the scrawl became Frankreich, Süd, 26117-7-6, Vichy.

Hoffner smiled. These had been slated for reparations, not surplus, and yet somehow—just somehow—they had failed to make it across the border. In fact, very little these days was making it to the French or English or Belgians or Italians—how the Italians had managed to get in on the spoils, having sided with the Kaiser up through 1915, still puzzled him—except, of course, for the great waves of money. There, things were decidedly different. The French might have been willing to turn a blind eye to a few tires ending up in the service of Berlin`s police corps, but if so much as a single pfennig of repayments, or interest on repayments, or interest on the loans taken out to pay for the interest on those repayments went missing, then came the cries from Paris for the occupation of the Rhine and beyond. It was a constant plea in the papers from the ever-teetering Social Democrats to keep our new allies happy, keep the payments flowing out, no matter how many times the mark had to be revalued or devalued or carted around like so many reams of waste tissue just to pay for a bit of bread. Luckily, the worst of it was behind them now, or so said those same papers: who cared if Versailles and its treaty were beginning to prompt some rather unpleasant responses from points far right? Odd, but Hoffner had always thought Vichy in the north.

He slid out, planted himself on the running board, and flipped open his flask. The Hungarians, thank God, had remained loyal to the Kaiser up to the bitter end: little chance, then, of a shortage on slivovitz anytime soon. He took a swig of the brandy and stared out into the green wood as a familiar burning settled in at the back of his throat. A trio of wild boar was digging up the ground no more than twent

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