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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


A Review of Paul Grossman's CHILDREN OF WRATH

Although published after Grossman's novel, THE SLEEPWALKERS, CHILDREN OF WRATH is actually a prequel to that first Willi Kraus adventure. The first novel was set in 1932 but in this second tale of Kripo's most famous, and Jewish, detective, Grossman takes us back to the end of 1929 to show us how Kraus made a name for himself.
Kraus, a decorated WWI hero, begins an investigation into a found bag of gnawed human bones. The bones of children. Yes, Berlin has become the hunting ground for a serial killer preying on the denizens of the street and Kraus is determined to hunt the killer down. However, with more enemies than friends in the police department, Kraus soon finds himself taken off the case and given the job of uncovering the proliferation of tainted meat at the city's slaughterhouses. Lives have been lost and his bosses want this cleared up quickly while the search for the serial killer is put in the hands of a detective more fitted (read: more Aryan) to handle the high-profile investigation.

Undaunted, Kraus investigates both cases - one officially, the other during his spare time.

What follows is not for the squeamish. But, first, how does Grossman handle the history? Very well, actually. The novel has that ever-elusive immersive feel to the setting. Details are occasionally heavy but that is the nature of the beast with historical fiction and Grossman has done his research - in spades. The look, the feel, sights and sounds - all are here and the reader is transported to the Berlin of 1929-1930 before jumping to 1947 for a very brief Epilogue that has little bearing on the plot. The sexual 'deviance' of Weimar Berlin is well presented and set against the political upheaval in motion as the Republic goes through its death throes.

Now a word of warning for you faint of heart. Want to know how the Berlin slaughterhouses operated in 1929? Want to know EVERYTHING about the slaughterhouses? You'll find out in these pages. And that's just the beginning. Let me repeat, the novel deals with the abduction, murder and butchering of children and there is no light road to tread with this subject. Grossman could easily, and disastrously, tried to straddle the fence with this material in the hope of appealing to the widest audience. Thankfully he does not do this with CHILDREN OF WRATH. The novels pulls no punches. I was not put off by the subject matter but feel compelled to mention that, for those who are, this novel may offend. The novel is graphic, bloody and disturbing. Examples of child torture and abuse appear in these pages. You've been warned.

Grossman does a very good job of permitting us to walk a mile in his hero's shoes. The investigation is well handled as are the office politics and antisemitism. Kraus's personal life and how the job affects his relationships is realistically depicted but takes up too much space in the book when you consider the gravity of the subject matter cast against the history and the extremely well depicted expanding shadow of Nazism. This last is one of the highlights of the novel, the odd touch here and there that slowly grows until the end of the novel is but the beginning of the end of Germany.

The end result is an engaging read I guarantee you will never forget. As a whole, the novel is a tad uneven and the prose is often uninspired especially when the novel drifts into Kraus's domestic problems. As this is a series some of the less than familial bliss Kraus experiences pays off in THE SLEEPWALKERS. A good bit of action tinged with melodrama at the end give the novel the kind of spice I like in a thriller.

Ultimately, I recommend CHILDREN OF WRATH. It's well-researched, transports the reader to that turbulent time in Berlin and is unflinching in its approach to unsettling subject matter. I'd put Grossman behind Philip Kerr and Jonathan Rabb on the list of best Berlin Noir practitioners. A third Kraus adventure, BROTHERHOOD OF FEAR, is set to be released early next year. It appears to be set entirely in France which will keep it from being reviewed here but I'll certainly give it a read. Grossman is an author to watch.

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