Review: The Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin

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About the Author

Luke McCallin was born in Oxford, grew up around the world and has worked with the United Nations as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people–those stricken by conflict, by disaster–when they are put under abnormal pressures.   Author Website

About the Book

Publisher Description:  World War II is over and  former German intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt has returned to Berlin. He’s about to find that the bloodshed has not ended — and that for some, death is better than defeat. A year after Germany’s defeat, Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin’s civilian police force. The city is divided between the victorious allied powers, but 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 realises that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged…

450 pages, publication December 2016

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

My review

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publisher, No Exit Press, in return for an honest review.

This is the third in the series of stories featuring Gregor Reinhardt, now an Inspector in the post-war Berlin police force, and to my mind, it is the strongest so far.  Like its predecessors, The Man From Berlin and The Pale House, it is an extremely well-crafted detective story in which Reinhardt pursues a ruthless killer across the divided city of Berlin. The meticulous research of the author is apparent in the evocative descriptions of the ravaged city, the orphaned children, the food and fuel shortages where a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes is valued currency. The turbulent political situation in which each of the Allies is attempting to exert and protect their power and influence is realistically brought to life.

In Gregor Reinhardt, the author has created a compelling character with  believable doubts and flaws. A loner, shunned by colleagues suspicious of his allegiances and unsure who he can trust, in this book he reminded me of Alec Leamas in John Le Carre’s masterful The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.   Prone to almost obsessive introspection, Reinhardt once again questions himself and his principles, battling his inner demons – his capacity for violence (the “darker side of himself)”, his weakness for alcohol, driven by the desire to atone for perceived past actions (or inactions). However, he is also proud of his skill and experience and unwilling to “bend with the wind” like so many of his colleagues. Widowed and estranged from his son who is missing on the Russian front, there is a touching scene in which Reinhardt is drawn to seek a connection with his past life.  Behind the search for the killer, which has plenty of satisfying twists and turns, the novel depicts the dreadful legacy of the war on individuals; the stories they cannot bear to tell but that weigh heavy on them and, in some cases, drive their actions.

I thought this was a terrific read and I was torn between wanting to find out what happened and not wanting it to end. My personal wish for Reinhardt (who I confess I’m a little in love with) was fulfilled in the last sentence.  Thank you for that, Luke.

In three words: Atmospheric, gripping, satisfying

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