Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Review of The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman (St Martins Press, 2010)
The Sleepwalkers is a police procedural thriller where a cunning and connected Jewish detective takes on the upper echelons of the newly formed and secretive SS. It’s a nice premise and certainly makes for a page-turner as Kraus does his best to expose the dark secret that led to death of the woman found on the bank of the Havel river. The sense of place and time is good, with Grossman effectively conveying the uncertainties, confusion, paranoia and culture of the dying days of the Weimar Republic, and the rising anti-Semitism and the bloody clashes and power struggles between political factions on the streets of Berlin. The characterization is generally okay, though a couple of characters didn’t quite ring true or were defined by status rather than personality. At one level the plot works well, with a strong hook, political intrigue, personal rivalries and a nice build-up to a tense climax. At another level, it’s all a bit too contrived and the history is muddled. I found it difficult to buy into the sleepwalking element: it left a massive trail that is covered over by one of Kraus’ colleagues in missing persons being inept beyond belief (it simply would have been more credible to snatch them). As Grossman notes himself in the author notes, he has fiddled with the historical narrative, moving one event forward four years, another a decade. There’s really very little need for it other than to create a huge conspiracy for Kraus to try and uncover, especially given all the atrocious things the Nazis did (even in 1932/33). Overall then, The Sleepwalkers is a gripping page turner and if you like your police procedurals to be thrillers with a capital T and don’t mind a contrived plot then you’ll thoroughly enjoy the book. Personally, I enjoyed the read, but felt the issues noted above undermined the credibility of the story.