Set in Munich three years after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden (@snowdenlit) is a wonderfully tense murder mystery crackling with political and personal intrigue, and filled with small details that bring the period to vivid life.
When Kommisar Rolf Wundt is called to the scene of brutal murder, he finds a dead German girl with an ambiguous but — given the time and Nazi policy — politically charged phrase carved into her skin. Is the killer a Jew calling his peers to action? Or is the killing a warning by a German against the persecuted religious group?
A former prisoner of war who fought for Germany in The First World War, Wundt is a seasoned investigator whose psychiatrist wife Klara provided vital assistance in the biggest case of his career to this point, tracking down the notorious Dresden Vampire. It took years to stop the Vampire, an undertaking that put tremendous strain on the Wundt’s marriage, but they don’t have the luxury of time in this case.
Political outsiders — Rolf’s a Social Democrat and lapsed Catholic while Klara’s a Socialist who was forced out of her practice — the couple have seen enough of the Nazi agenda to know it is time for them to leave the country. But Rolf must solve the girl’s murder before his boss will approve his exit visa.
Which won’t be easy, given the deep political and personal waters Rolf will have to navigate. SS leader Heinrich Himmler and his frightening lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich are looking to combine the country’s political and criminal police forces, and Rolf’s marriage is … complicated, to say the least. No spoilers, but there are plenty of twists and turns that had me glued to my Kindle.
I give Mr. Snowden great credit for picking a fascinating period to set his novel. With Kristallnacht a bit more than two years in the future, the Nazis have been in power long enough for their anti-Semitic and “intellectual purity” programs to have permeated through much of German society but even so many Jews and other “non-desirables” still live and work openly in the country. Still, the seeds of a totalitarian regime have been planted and are sprouting; fear of betrayal and imprisonment for any number of offenses is omnipresent for nearly everyone, creating an underlying tension that affects the most mundane actions.
As an example, and to highlight Mr. Snowden’s whip-smart dialogue, the following is part of an exchange between Rolf and Katz, a blind Jew who may have witnessed an earlier crime:
“I did not have my sight ten years ago, Kommissar,” Katz said. “I lost it at Verdun.”
“No. Shrapnel from an exploding shell. It’s what I was doing before we all stabbed Germany in the back.”
— Snowden, Jim (2013-07-25). The Summer of Long Knives (p. 135). Booktrope. Kindle Edition.
Intellectual and politically out of step, Rolf and Klara represent an untold number of Germans who, as one character puts it, didn’t think the Nazis would last. But last they have, and now can Rolf’s sense of justice prevail in the face of a government which doesn’t abide inconvenient truths? It makes for a great read and I highly recommend it. For more from Mr. Snowden visit his website.