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Nova, Craig - 'The Informer'
Hardback: 320 pages (Mar. 2010) Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books ISBN: 0307236935

Berlin 1930, in the slightly weird and decadent world of Germany, in the dying years of the Weimar Republic, it seems anything goes.

Gaelle is a gravelstone, a woman, almost always a prostitute, with a deformity that is erotically appealing, in her case a scar caused by a motorcar accident. Her protector is Felix, a 16 year-old boy hustler with a limp, who carries an ice pick and negotiates Gaelle's fees with her clients.

Several young women's bodies have been discovered in the park murdered in the same manner, and homicide investigator Armina Treffen, a beautiful red head with freckles, is assigned the case. In progressive Weimar women took jobs and did things they had not been allowed to do before.

But Gaelle begins to deal in an even more dangerous commodity than sex; information gained from her clients is passed to both the Red Front and the Brownshirts. Mani Carlson, director of the Red Front Fighters in Berlin, worries about the counterfeit Soviet money for which he can't account and a possible one way trip to Moscow. He and tough guy Karl kill a well-placed spy without knowing that the information given to them by Gaelle originated from the mysterious Bruno Hauptmann. As both left and right have their own motives for wanting to ensure complete silence in this case, the tension mounts, and Galle is in very great danger and Karl, realising this, tries to protect her.

I always feel a little nervous when I read a book that claims to be a "literary thriller''. But in the case of THE INFORMER, literary means beautifully written, and thriller does mean tense and exciting along with plenty of action. Author Craig Nova has succeeded on a number of levels; firstly you can smell the cigars, sausage and perfumes of Weimar Berlin as he brilliantly captures the taut atmosphere of fear and decay in the city. Secondly he has created in Gaelle and Armina two strong contrasting female characters that readers will care about, and will turn the pages to find out their fate. The story is also full of interesting male characters: Felix, Bruno Hauptmann, Armina's boss the devious Ritter, her boyfriend the botanist Rainier, Mani Carlson and Karl. Thirdly you get a love story in which a man and a woman communicate with shared little gifts in stark contrast to the brutality all around them. All these lives are cleverly interwoven to produce a complex story, which has a warning for us today.

In the explanatory notes kindly sent from New York by the publisher, Craig states "Berlin 1930 is a lot like the modern age". I am not so pessimistic because none of the traumas of the past few years could equal the horrific loss of life, territory and confidence suffered by Germany in the Great War. It was a unique situation. We have the advantage over the generation of Weimar in that we know what can happen when the forces of extremism destroy the liberal centre.

"And" she said "what do you think?"
"We're in a bad spot" he said.
"Where's that?" she said. "Where's the bad spot?"
"In the middle" he said.

Norman Price, England
May 2010

Norman blogs at
Crime Scraps.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 16/05/2010 21:00