Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Trace of Smoke: Rebecca Cantrell

One of my favorite types of mystery is the historical mystery set during or around World War II. Usually set in Europe. I have read all or parts of many series set in this time period. My favorites are the John Lawton series about Inspector Troy of London, which blends police procedural with espionage thriller (in some of the books), and the Philip Kerr series about Bernie Gunther, an ex-cop turned private detective in Germany. Rebecca Cantrell's series, set in the years between World War I and World War II, stars Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter in Berlin. It is very different from the others I have read... at least based on this first novel, A Trace of Smoke.

One obvious difference is the female protagonist. The story is told in first person, and coming from a woman's viewpoint, it has to have a different feel. Hannah is driven, but she is in emotional turmoil from the beginning of this book, because she has just discovered that her younger brother is dead. She spends the rest of the book unraveling the mystery of his death.

First, let me say that I loved this book. The problem is, the more I like a book, the harder I find it to write a review. If I have problems with a book, I can describe those more easily.

While reading the first half of this book, I was not so sure. I wasn't sure I liked the author's style of telling the story. But at the halfway point, all of a sudden I was hooked by the story, by the character; the last few chapters were a roller coaster ride. The book did not end at all like I expected, and I liked the ending a lot. I wanted to pick up the next book immediately. (Which I could not do... I have other reading commitments. But soon, very soon.)

This seems to be a very real picture of Germany in 1931. Nazi soldiers discourage Germans from shopping in Jewish businesses. There are several scenes set in El Dorado, a gay bar in Berlin that really existed, showing the decadence of that side of Berlin nightlife.

Per the biography at the author's website: "Fluent in German, she received her high school diploma from the John F. Kennedy Schule in Berlin and studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin and the Georg August Universität in Göttingen before graduating from Carnegie Mellon University." It appears she has done a lot of research for this series.

This book belongs to my husband and he has the entire series (four books so far). He has read three of them and liked the books a lot. The third was his favorite, so I am looking forward to continuing the series.


Katrina said...

Blimey, I haven't heard of any of those writers but I've checked my library's catalogue and they have Philip Kerr and John Lawton. I'm adding them to my list, thanks.

Sarah said...

I enjoyed this book v much and I also like Philip Kerr. I haven't read any John Lawton so he is clearly someone to add to my list. Have you read any Ally Monroe? She writes espionage thrillers set just after WW2. They are very good.

Puzzle Doctor said...

Sounds like an intriguing one. Going on the list.

Completely agree with you on the difficulties of reviewing a book you enjoyed. You're reluctant to even discuss the plot in any detail, as you don't want to spoil it for other readers and it feels wrong to nitpick so all that leaves is gushing praise.

Similarly it's hard to review on you hated because it feels like kicking a puppy sometimes.

Ambitious with flaws, that's the easiest.

Oh and I didn't enjoy the Aly Monroe book that I read but this is a bit outside my preferences

Anonymous said...

Tracy - I'm so glad that you're profiling this novel and Rebecca Cantrell. Folks, do follow this series. It's very well-written. I think you'll like the next novels in the series - I hope you will :-)

TracyK said...

Aly Monroe is on my list to read but I don't have any of her books yet. WW2 fiction and espionage thrillers -- WW2 or cold war -- are both favorite reads for me.

Unknown said...

Rebecca Cantrell is new to me, but this sounds good. I totally agree with the difficulty in reviewing a book you loved, it is something I find really hard too (so good job here!).


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Sounds great TracyK, right up my street - I definitely will try to track down a copy for 2013. I don't think i can do any more challenges as its too tiring and potentially stressful but really want to focus on people's reccommendations. Thanks again.