Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Second Son - Jonathan Rabb



Rabb is one of many contemporary crime novelists exploring the Nazification of Germany from the point of view of non-Nazi policemen.  Philip Kerr is by far the best of these.  In this, the third of his Berlin Trilogy, Rabb takes us to civil war Spain at the time of the alternative Olympics in 1936.  Again this is not new (see Alan Furst, Midnight in Europe, and Jack Ludlow, A Broken Land) and would have been better had he told us something worth knowing about the event.  The alternative Olympics would be a great theme for a novel but it is not the theme of this one.  Quite what is, I'm not sure. Perhaps I'm in the dark because this is the third of a trilogy and I haven't read the other two.  It shouldn't be the case - you can read Smiley's People, for example, without having read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.  I certainly did.

Forcibly-retired Police Inspector Nikolai Hoffner takes himself off to Spain in search of his second son, Georg, a newsreel cameraman who has gone missing.  Previous novels presumably deal with his estrangement from his older son, Sasha.  Hoffner has cryptic clues to follow in a telegram that is nowhere near as implausible as the later revelation of where it came from.  He meets a female doctor, Mila, much younger than himself, and they (again slightly implausibly) become lovers and set off on a cross-country quest.

That's pretty much it.  Rabb clearly knows his subject matter but does not feel the urge to share it adequately with those of us who don't.  He writes well, his style crisp, well-paced and authoritative.  I'm sorry, but whilst the narrative kept me interested, I found I couldn't care less about the characters.

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