paperback, sent by the publisher, thanks!
Another book by an indie publisher and author (who just happened to get his degree at University of Washington and lives in Seattle, the best city in America). The premise of The Summer of Long Knives is a good one. It's 1936, and police Kommisar Rolf Wundt of Munich is ready to walk away from the Nazis and from Germany, taking his wife Klara with him. Wundt had earlier solved the case of the serial killer known as the Dresden Vampire, and he's a good cop. There's just one more case left for him to solve before he flees, that of a murdered little German girl found at a farmhouse belonging to the family Epp. But, just like in the real world, things do not always go as planned.
Even though Wundt and his team at the police department are on to a strong lead from photographic evidence they'd culled together, the case suddenly comes to a halt when the decision is made by higher powers to make Heydrick and Himmler "the new lords and masters at KRIPO," effectively putting the SS in charge of German police forces. Under their watch, Jewish scapegoats are brought in for "questioning" in the case, then executed for the murder of the little girl. Wundt knows that these boys didn't do it, but with the SS in control, he's beaten, and what can he do? As he's getting ready to pack up and leave, he's going through some old files and comes across one from some years earlier that is linked to the little girl's murder, a file he'd never seen before, put there just for him. Suddenly, his plans for leaving are put on hold as he realizes that he must solve this crime, not just for justice but for his own personal redemption. With the SS breathing down his neck, it's going to be difficult, and his investigation just may mean the end of his plans for freedom.
The author is on his game when he is focused on the crime segments of this novel as well as during his depictions of Wundt's frustration at the SS takeover of the criminal investigation agency of the police. The book starts out very nicely with the discovery of the body, leading to Wundt's investigation, and police work that leads Wundt in a positive direction toward the possible identity of the little girl's killer. When he turns to psychiatrist-wife Klara, who helps with profiling the killer, it's an added plus. But around the crime, I had a lot of issues with the writing. Sometimes the SS people, most especially in their "interrogation" with the Jewish suspect in the girl's murder, came across as truly stereotypical Nazis you might see on television. Then there are Wundt's inner musings. For example, there's one scene where Wundt is musing about Marlene Dietrich and her "magical reversal of power," her "indifference to men," and holding her up as the standard of German womanhood. Huh? Another example: on seeing his boss's naked torso at his raquet club, there's this:
"Rolf had never known just how much hair covered Helmut's body. Tufts of it sprouted from his nipples and their environs, and from the ridges of his shoulder blades, like swamp ferns. He'd need to have them waxed if he wanted to join the SS. From what Rolf had seen in the films, they had a smooth skin fetish."Huh? These sorts of things pop up all throughout the novel (including a brief discourse on Bentham's panopticon which seems out of place), and to say that they're jarring is an understatement. The author also, from time to time, uses expressions that seem more at home in our current world than in Nazi Germany, pulling me out of the time frame.
Overall, the author can write crime scenes well, and he's good at, as the back cover blurb notes, "telling stories about people who find that the rules they've lived by are turning against them." That theme comes through loud and clear in Summer of Long Knives. However, I didn't really enjoy the periodic lapsing into moments I've noted above that left me wondering about their relevance. I read literary fiction all of the time so I get what he's trying to do here, but less would have been so much more in this novel, which started out so promisingly well. But once again, I'm probably being nitpicky -- I'm looking at reader reviews and they almost all seem to love this book, 4 & 5 stars pretty much across the board, making me realize just how tough of an audience I really am.