A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell is the fourth in the Hannah Vogel historical mystery series set at the beginning of World War II (available July 17, 2012).
By the time of A City of Broken Glass, the Nazis have spread their fear and hatred throughout Germany and have infected neighboring countries like Poland, where we find Hannah in the beginning of another tense novel fraught with danger.
While it would certainly help to know of Hannah’s other three adventures as characters and events from her years past crop up frequently, the core mystery this time does stand alone. When Hannah meets a Jewish refugee living like an animal in a dilapidated barn in the Polish countryside, she recognizes her from her days in Berlin. The woman, about to give birth in these squalid conditions, implores Hannah to help rescue her young daughter, Ruth, who she left behind in their Berlin apartment. Returning to Germany is suicide for Hannah and her son, Anton, but if we’ve learned anything over the previous books, Hannah is never one to put herself first, even when there is risk involved.
“Her condition is serious,” I told him. “The baby could come at my moment.”
He took the number from me, then hooked his thumbs in his wide leather belt.
“She will have to wait,” Fräulein Ivona said, “like the other Jews.”
“People,” I said. “like the other people.”
Two more soldiers arrived.
I turned to the soldiers. “Please put her on your list for medical care. A mother and a baby might die right here in the stable. Surely, as Christians—”
The new soldiers seized me by the elbows and started dragging me out. I struggled to pull free. “I will not leave her.”
“Don’t,” Fräulein Ivona said. “They will arrest you. You can do her no good in jail. And what becomes of your boy?”
And so Hannah does make the treacherous journey back into the belly of the Nazi party. She gains some help from old friends (or are they her friends?) and the search for the girl is on. A simple find-the-girl story is given extra tension by Hannah’s status as a criminal wanted by the Nazi party. Her and Anton’s every move in Berlin is a risk.
My heart beat faster. It did not matter what I found in the desk. I had to get Anton out of Germany. Ruth was no longer in the cupboard, and there was little I could do for her now.
Should I chance going to Herr Silbert’s tonight? The sky outside was already growing dark, which made it around four. His shop would close before we got there. First thing tomorrow morning, I would get Anton a Swiss passer and get mine stamped. We might be on a train to Zurich by lunch. But what of Ruth? What if the person who typed the letter had taken her? What if she had not been rescued at all?
The addition of Anton as a constant presence tones down the Hannah Vogel series. These are between cozy and hard-boiled, leaning more toward the former. They are not breakneck paced, nor are they violent to any extreme. The atrocities of the Nazi party as a backdrop casts a dark shadow over all the books, which started out in the relatively benign year of 1932. Now it is 1938 and the writing is on the wall.
“She might have written the letters, but I do not see why. I do not think she would have killed [spoiler]. It seems as if she would have killed me first.”
“Perhaps she intended to kill you, but something went awry,” Lars said.
Anton’s eyes widened.
I pulled a handful of coins out of my pocket and handed them to Anton.
“Could you please fetch us a newspaper?” I pointed to a wizened newspaper seller hunched in a stand outside the restaurant.
Anton knew what I was up to, but he took the coins and tore out the door.
“I think we are frightening Anton,” I said.
“Good,” Lars answered. “He should be frightened. This is a frightening situation. He would be a fool if he were not frightened. A fool in danger.”
It would help to know more about Germany in that time period, but it is not a requirement at all. Cantrell doles out the information we need and even provides a glossary of German terms and locations for those of us who have never been to Eastern Europe. Most anyone has heard of the Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass of the title, and knowing that night of mass devastation is looming puts a nervous tension over the whole book.
Evening came with no answers. The sun set, and darkness rolled in. Still we drove around Berlin. We had no idea how to find Fräulein Ivona and Ruth, but when we were moving, it at least felt like we were doing something.
At eight thirty that night, the radio announced that Ernst vom Rath had died of wounds inflicted by a vicious Jew. They called for two minutes of radio silence. Once it was over, they announced that the Fuhrer had said that no official actions would be taken against the Jews, but that citizens could use their own judgement. Everyone knew what that meant.
Another solid historical mystery from Rebecca Cantrell. The previous books have jumped around two years between them so in the next installment Hannah should be thrust into a Europe at war. Can’t wait to see what trouble she gets into there.
Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision, and A Mouth Full Of Blood, as well as co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short stories have appeared in Pulp Ink, D*cked, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Off The Record, Murder In The Wind, Needle Magazine, Crimefactory, The Million Writers Award: Best New Online Voices and more.
Read all of Eric Beetner’s Criminal Element posts.