John A. Connell's debut novel is a police procedural set in Munich in 1945. That is, post-war Munich, ruined and defeated Munich, a Munich that still seethes with vendettas, desire for revenge, and an intense struggle to survive.
As if that weren't enough, now a serial killer is carving his or her way through the city, adding terror to desperation, famine, and disease.
Here's how Connell sets the stage:
People huddled against the biting wind as they shuffled along a street lined with the blackened shells of buildings rising from a graveyard of brick and stone. The heavy gauze of snowfall made them appear as lost souls wandering purgatory, custodians of the dead buried beneath the rubble. Except for the old and the very young, few men moved among them. Women, always women. A line of women extended for blocks, waiting hours in the cold for a Red Cross center to open, hoping to receive a loaf of bread and a few ounces of lard. Others scoured the rubble looking for wood not already burned to fend off the cold. They formed knotted daisy chains salvaging brick and stone from the ruins, inspiring a new German word, Trümmerfrauen, meaning “rubble women.”
The narrator is Criminal Investigator Mason Collins, a military police officer, former POW, and former Chicago cop who has actually requested to be stationed in Munich. He has a skeleton in his closet (at least one!) that makes him reluctant to go home, and like all good detectives, he has trouble following the rules. We meet him just as he arrives in Munich, already racing to the crime scene where the first victim of a serial killer who tortures his victims with surgical skill. The descriptions of the crime scenes are not for the faint of heart.
Because the killer targets Germans, Masons commanding officer, a rather clownish character who is completely out of his element, keeps blocking Mason's efforts to investigate.
Still, Mason tracks the killer through the rubble, the fog, and the despair, and gets close enough that the killer soon turns his sights on him.
Mason also encounters a journalist, Laura McKinnon, who he runs into again and again. She gets in his way, keeps him on his toes, and gives him something more pleasant to think about than death and destruction.
I also got attached to Mason's aide, Corporal Wolski, a great side kick who was set up well but then underused in the story.
This is the first of a series built around Mason Collins, a series to look forward to after this harrowing, adventurous, and action-packed debut.
John was born in Atlanta then grew up in Ohio, New York and Virginia before ending up in Atlanta again at the age of 13. He has a BA in Anthropology, and has been a jazz pianist, a stock boy in a brassiere factory, a machinist, repairer of newspaper racks, and a printing-press operator. He is a motion picture camera operator by trade and a writer by passion. He lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on the next Mason Collins adventure.