It’s not often that I buy an actual paperback book – a proper thing with pages, not an ethereal ebook – and then give up on it halfway through. So The Butchers Of Berlin has secured an unusual accolade indeed. It should have been straight up my street, as I enjoy criminal investigations, serial killer thrillers, and just about anything to do with the Great Patriotic War. As you’ll note a little further down the page, many of my favourite authors paddle in this particular pond and I was more than ready to welcome another to the fray.
But this effort has the feel of a commissioning editor saying to a contracted author; ‘as the company has already paid you a stonking advance for your next book, the company would like you to write something like a Bernie Gunther story. Something exactly like a Bernie Gunther story. Can you make sure there are oppressed and quietly heroic Jews in Berlin, evil SS officers, Arthur Nebe, some gadfly aristocratic socialites, and a good German policeman seeking redemption? Feel free to spice it up with some suggestive (but not explicit) sexual adventures.’
Been there, read that – not just by Philip Kerr but by several other authors. And most of them do it so much better.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with The Butchers Of Berlin, but there’s nothing especially good about it, either. It is carelessly anachronistic in places; how could a young woman in Berlin in the 1940s possibly imagine she was an astronaut, floating above the world? Such concepts could not exist in that period. Bad enough that the author wrote such bunkum: worse that the editor allowed it to get into print.
The situation has been done a dozen times already, and none of the characters in Butchers engaged my interest. Nor did the story, so I bailed out on this one.
If you’ve not read any other novels of this type then you might enjoy it. However, you’d be better off spending time and money on Philip Kerr, David Downing, Luke McCallin, Alan Furst and Ben Pastor. All have done it so much better.
And did Alan Moore really write that cover blurb? Mr NeverSellOut himself? The world truly has tilted on its axis.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
You can buy The Butchers of Berlin at Amazon, but…