The Ashes Of Berlin by Luke McCallin
Shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger 2017
1947 and Gregor Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin’s civilian police force. The city is divided among the victorious allied powers, tensions are growing, and the police are riven by internal rivalries as factions within it jockey for power and influence with Berlin’s new masters.
When a man is found slain in a broken-down tenement, Reinhardt embarks on a gruesome investigation. It seems a serial killer is on the loose, and matters only escalate when it’s discovered that one of the victims was the brother of a Nazi scientist.
Reinhardt’s search for the truth takes him across the divided city and soon embroils him in a plot involving the Western Allies and the Soviets. And as he comes under the scrutiny of a group of Germans who want to continue the war – and faces an unwanted reminder from his own past – Reinhardt realizes that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged…
I am a huge nerd for fiction in the WW2 era. I have a whole fascination for the era and the impact it had on people’s lives etc.
Former German intelligence Officer Gregor Reinhardt is working the night shift on a mundane Monday night in 1947. When a call comes in of a body found in a stairwell, in an apartment building in the American sector of Berlin. Inspector Reinhardt is now with the Schoneberg kripo division. The victim appears to have a fallen from the flight of stairs laying at the bottom with a broken neck. When other officers smell alcohol, they are hasty to mark this as a drunken accident.
But Reinhardt has his suspicions……
“sometimes death is better than defeat”
It appears prior to the fall the man had sustained a brutal beating. The police enquire with neighbours to learn of the man’s identity. This leads them to an apartment in the complex and another dead body! This victim is easily identified as Mr Noell and shows clear sign of asphyxiation! But how are the two men linked? Why do they both lay dead? Reinhardt searches the flat and finds a document that states RITTERFELD ASSOCIATION is this a clue to what links the men?
The harshness of post-war Germany is fully explored.
The poverty, defeat and presence of death seeps from the pages, with each character’s story!
Upon further investigation Reinhardt learns that Mr Noell was a quiet, courteous and mystery man. He is a veteran of the air force, seemingly living out a lifeless existence. Reinhardt spots some homeless orphan kids and through talking to Leena learns of mysterious men coming and going. Reinhardt is clutching at theories to link the two men. The surrounding officers mock him, calling him Captain Crow. He continues to investigate whilst being plagued with flashback scenes that show what he has lived through in the war.
“Defeat is an orphan. An unloved only child”.
We learn more of Reinhardt his background, personal history and essentially what shaped the man he is now. There are times with the novel where Reinhardt shows a humanity that is has inner depth and is not always displayed by his fellow police officers. This was an era of great shame for German citizens. The women who suffered the savagery of the Red Armies victory. The children now without fathers. The displaced persons, surviving the experience of a new found freedom in a country that reminds them of their great shame. The rubble women scraping by a meagre life, with a harsh job, in harsh times. The various areas are explained the Soviet zone and American/British sectors.
When more bodies begin to pile up, all with a distinct link in their veteran status. It is clear Reinhardt has a serial killer on his hands! Not just any serial killer a methodical and premeditated murderer, with vengeance fuelling his urge to kill! 4*
“All wrongs must be avenged”
‘Closure through character’
When the idea for the character of Gregor Reinhardt—a man on the edge of despair at what his life had become—first came to me it was not so much a question of could I do this—I had a degree of confidence in myself as a storyteller and a writer—but should I do this. What I was trying to write could so easily have been misunderstood as an apology. The time, the place, a character such as Reinhardt—a German, a soldier, a servant, however unwilling of a regime such as the Nazis…
I was born in Oxford to parents that had a humanitarian vocation. We moved to Africa when I was five. My father worked for UNHCR—the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—and my mother did work with child soldiers. That upbringing was inspirational, and engendered in me a desire to something similar. I’ve worked for a range of UN organisations around the world, and now work for UNHCR in Geneva.
Somewhere along the way, my work and my vocation to write began to merge. All the places I worked and lived in—in Africa, in Russia, in Haiti, in Pakistan, in the Balkans—taught me something, or I saw something, or felt something. About what happens to people—ordinary people—put in extraordinary situations. Watching the news from Ukraine, for example, I get awful flashbacks to my time in Bosnia, to when neighbours turned on each other. What makes friends of decades suddenly believe the worst of each other? What makes a deliveryman become a gunman? What makes a woman arm her husband or son and send him out to fight the sons and husbands of other women? What happens to people like that when the guns fall silent? When people come home? When the people they tried to expel come home, too? When an occupation force comes in, and when words like ‘justice’ and ‘restitution’ begin to be whispered…?
I’ve found that no amount of work we, as humanitarian workers, can do will suffice to overcome those impulses. You are always going to be frustrated in what you achieve, to only get halfway to where you want to be, and often—far too often—the guilty get away with it. I think with my writing I’m trying to find some way of coming to terms with that. I don’t write about white knights on white horses—Gregor Reinhardt is certainly not one of those—but I try to ask those questions that seem to haunt me, and I try to find answers, and a sense of closure.
Web site: http://lukemccallin.com/