Blackout, by Simon Scarrow

A venture into the Second World War from Simon Scarrow, which brings life in Berlin during the war to life.
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Night can hide all manner of monsters, some of them imagined and some of them real. In Blackout, Scarrow vividly brings to life Berlin in 1939. A vibrant cosmopolitan city, confident after Germany’s victory over Poland. However in the depth of a freezing winter, with rationing and fuel becoming scarce, uncertainty is creeping in. Plunged into darkness by the threat of RAF bombers, who have done little more than drop leaflets so far, the danger comes from closer to home.

A ruthless killer stalks the city’s rail network, prying on women as they travel home. When the wife of a top Nazi official is murdered, the case finally comes to the attention of the authorities who, fearing that the murder might have political ramifications brings in Inspector Horst Schenke, of the criminal investigation department (Kripo).

Schenke’s team quickly connects the murder to a string of train related deaths, that had previously been thought to be accidents and Schenke realises he has more than political infighting on his hands. The story echoes the real life serial killer Paul Ogorzow, the S-Bahn Murderer, who killed 8 women from October 1940 to July 1941 and is referenced in the book.

Schenke is put under considerable pressure to solve the case quickly by the Gestapo and they place Sergeant Otto Liebwitz in his team to keep an eye of him. Liebwitz is a very original character who for me steals the show. He is a Gestapo man but is both perilously honest and a skilled investigator. Liebwitz has a total lack of guile and understanding of what is going on around him. This complements the elegant and shrewd Schenke and his hard boiled second in command, Sergeant Hauser, adding some wry humour to a dark story.

Scarrow deftly takes the team on a page turning journey through the highs and lows of Berlin society, keeping the reader guessing until the end.

Police work in Nazi Germany is proving to be a rich vein to mine with the books by Robert Harris, Luke McCallin, Philip Kerr and Ostland by David Thomas, which also features Paul Ogorzow. The essential questions Scarrow asks is how can a good man serve an oppressive and murderous regime. And can that man make a difference by catching a murderer, when he serves a regime that uses murder as a political tool. Let us hope Scarrow develops the Schenke, Hauser and Liebwitz dynamic to further explore these questions in another book.

Alan Bardos is the author of the Johnny Swift thriller series.