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Thursday Quotables – Babylon Berlin

BABYLON BERLIN (Volker Kutscher) - Berlin, 1929. Detective Inspector Rath, was a successful career officer in the Cologne Homicide Division before a shooting incident in which he inadvertently killed a man. He has been transferred to the Vice Squad in Berlin, a job he detests, even though he finds a new friend in his boss, Chief Inspector Wolter. There is seething unrest in the city and the Commissioner of Police has ordered the Vice Squad to ruthlessly enforce the ban on May Day demonstrations. The result is catastrophic with many dead and injured, and a state of emergency is declared in the Communist strongholds of the city.

Was the fake Kaiser already on his way down? If so, Bruno would intercept him. If he was still scrambling around up here it would be his responsibility to nab him, Gereon Rath, vertigo or no. The whistling of the wind became unbearable as, carefully, he climbed down to a more sheltered level, and suddenly Wilhelm II was standing right in front of him, just as startled as the detective. He had lost half of his fake moustache during the pursuit.

‘Fuck off, pig,’ he said, his voice nervous and shrill and quite the opposite of majestic. Madness was in his eyes, an impression only intensified by the smear of greasepaint.

Cocaine, Rath thought, he’s on cocaine, he’s been snorting it in the toilet. Just what I need.

‘C’mon pal,’ he said, trying to sound as calm as possible, ‘you must see this is pointless. Why don’t you spare us any further trouble?’

‘I ain’t going to spare you nothing,’ the man said in a thick Berlin accent, and suddenly a glistening  piece of metal was in his hand. Great, Rath thought, a junkie with a shooter.

Thursday Quotables Meme

This is the first novel in the Inspector Gereon Rath mysteries, set in Babylon Berlin, the chaotic city between the wars.

I have very conflicting feelings about it, and they come from its dual nature. On the one hand, it is a very enjoyable crime mystery, with a lot of actions and quite a few ideas I didn’t see coming. The central part of the novel is truly a page turner, as mysteries pile up and troubles make every step a bet. At a certain point, I wanted to read as fast as possible because  couldn’t figure out how Rath could possibly get out of his entangled situation. Sadly, I don’t think the author exploited the tension as best he could. The end is a bit lame in comparison with the rest of the plot, but still I’d consider this an enjoyable read.

On the other hand, this story is set in Berlin in 1929 and so is supposedly a historical novel too. I say ‘supposedly’ because there is nothing historical about it. There are so many inaccuracies it is even embarrassing. I actually noticed that in many occasions the author was clearly seeing a contemporary setting, to the point I suspect the story was originally set in today Berlin and only afterward it was turned into a historical novel.
Quite a pity, since 1920s Berlin would be a fantastic place to set a story, especially a mystery.

So, depending what kind of reader you are, you may love this story or hate it. Because I’m a mystery reader as well as a historical reader, I enjoyed it… but also I quite hated it.

This is the original passage from Der nasse Fisch:

Der nasse Fisch: Gereon Raths erster Fall (Gereon Rath #1) by Volker Kutscher

Er zwang sich, zurück auf das Gerüst zu schauen. Wo war der falsche Kaiser? Wieder auf dem Weg nach unten? Auch gut, da würde Bruno ihn in Empfang nehmen. Doch wenn der Kerl noch hier oben rumturnte, dann wäre es seine Aufgabe, die Ratte zu verschnüren, die Aufgabe von Gereon Rath, Höhenangst hin oder her. Er versuchte zu lauschen, doch der Wind pfiff unerträglich laut. Vorsichtig kletterte er eine Etage tiefer, hier war es wenigstens etwas windgeschützt.

Und plötzlich stand Wilhelm zwo vor ihm.

Der Mann schien ebenso erschrocken zu sein wie der Kommissar. Seine Augen waren weit aufgerissen, eine Hälfte seines falschen Schnurrbarts hatte er auf seiner wilden Flucht verloren.

»Hau ab, Bulle«, sagte er. Seine Stimme klang nervös und schrill. Alles andere als majestätisch. Seine Augen hatten etwas Wahnsinniges, ein Eindruck, den die verschmierte Theaterschminke noch verstärkte.

Kokain, dachte Rath sofort, der ist auf Koks, der hat sich vorhin auf dem Klo die Nase vollgezogen. Das kann ja heiter werden.

»Mensch, Junge«, sagte er und versuchte, möglichst ruhig zu klingen, »sieh doch ein, dass es zwecklos ist. Du hättest uns beiden schon die Kletterei ersparen können, erspar uns wenigstens weiteren Ärger.«

»Dir erspar ick überhaupt keen Ärja«, sagte der Mann. Plötzlich hatte er etwas metallisch Glänzendes in der Hand. Na prima, dachte Rath, ein Kokser mit Knarre.

In post is part of the Thursday Quotables mem. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies

BABYLON BERLIN (Volker Kutscher) Set in Weimar Berlin, Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher is the dark story of a honest policemen trying to solve a murder... and his own issues.
Pinteret pin. The title reads, "BABYLON BERLIN (Volker Kutscher) ". The picture shows a young man with a fedora smoking a cigarette. His profile is black against the shadows created by a starck, slanted light.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 21:39

    Thank you for the thoughtful and interesting review. I feel just the same way you do about historical accuracy, actually. I know it’s fiction, and I know there’s such a thing as suspending disbelief, at least a bit, for a fictional story. But certain thing, I think, need to be factual. Otherwise, at least in my opinion, the reader isn’t drawn into the story.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 16, 2016 at 12:38

      I agree. The more realistic and authontinc the setting, the better chance to involve the reader. True, readers like to recognise the ‘place’ where they find themselves (I suppose this is why many are ok with eccessively ‘updated’ historicals), but if an author does a good job, they may succeed in having the reader feel at home in a stranger land. And that’s what storytelling should do, in my opinion.

  • Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies
    Posted December 16, 2016 at 05:00

    Interesting passage — but your thoughts on the book are even more interesting. It sounds like the historical bits are kind of a mess, which is a shame if it detracted from the overall effect of the book.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 16, 2016 at 12:42

      As I mention, I do believe the story was born as a contemporary mystery, turned historical only afterward. Not the best of ideas, in my opinion. There should be a reason why an author chooses to write historicals and a historical time in particular. As I said in my recent post about my NaNo experience this year, I think historical setting and worldbuilding go hand-in-hand. This story illustrates perfectly what happens when this is not the case.
      And a shame all the more, since the mystery was very good and the Weimar period in Germany history is a very intriguing one.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted December 16, 2016 at 11:03

    It’s so frustrating to encounter a so-called historical full of anachronisms. It’s even worse when I read glowing reviews from people who obviously don’t know or care these are anachronisms, or who insist it’s not a big deal if it’s not 100% historically accurate.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 16, 2016 at 12:46

      I used to be a lot more frustrated, now I’ve come to term with the fact that most readers just enjoy the story, mostly they don’t care for the historical accuracy (I’ve heard the refrain ‘it’s just fiction’ a lot, a lot of times).
      But as a writer, we should ‘care’. Why do we even choose to write a certein historical time if then we don’t even care to depict it with an acceptable grade of accuracy? That’s what I don’t understand. Why choose to write historicals in the first place if you don’t care for history?

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