Brotherhood of Fear by Paul Grossman is the third Willi Kraus novel, in which the Berlin detective's been exiled from his homeland by the rise of the Nazis (available February 18, 2014).
Paul Grossman’s third Willi Kraus novel finds its title character without any of his prestige and power, or even his home, but provides no shortage of trouble for the former detective.
It’s 1933 in Paris, and former Inspektor Willi Kraus has fled his home in Berlin to become one of thousands of Jewish refugees in France. Without papers or any hope of one day working as a police officer again, he’s done what refugees are forced to do worldwide and taken odd jobs to make some money, hoping to one day provide for his two boys, currently living with his late wife’s family across town. Of course, if he’d kept the job sewing fake eyes on fox stoles, there wouldn’t be much of a book, and Willi finds an organizer at the refugee center who offers him work as a private investigator—off the books.
A simple job—follow around a young university student for his parents—leads to murder and fraud and the eventual collapse of the French economy. And it turns out, despite flattering Willi with assurances and admiration, several people seem to completely underestimate the sleuth.
Two days after he’d registered for asylum he’d received a summons commanding him to room 602, Palace of Justice. He’d sweated bullets all night knowing this was where the Paris police were headquartered. But was it a good summons or a bad? The next day he was amazed to discover room 602 was the commissioner of police.
Victoir Orsini was one of the most powerful men in Paris, his office a kingly suite overlooking Notre Dame. Behind a massive Louis XIV desk he sat surrounded by medieval tapestries depicting characters from the Old Testament, including, Willi noticed, one of the great Jewish queen Esther, radiantly beaming at her coronation. A porcelain clock on the desk chimed as Willi took a seat, its painted figurines commencing a waltz.
A short, barrel-chested man with a great hooked nose, the police commissioner was famous for his three-inch elevator shoes. “Herr Inspecktor-Detektiv!” Willi’d been touched by the use of his former title, although he couldn’t exactly tell if it was a putdown. “Don’t think we’re unaware of you. We’re all terribly concerned about events across the border. More exiles arrive each day. Of course, our economy’s not impervious to the worldwide crisis so it might not be possible for all to stay — but you are exactly the kind of refugee we like! A man whose talents could be very useful.”
And at least one Parisian introduces himself in a way that should sound familiar to better-known con-attendees.
In the men’s room before they left, Willi got a surprise when the same apricot necktie addressed him at the urinal. “Do pardon me. You’re Willi Kraus, the famous Berlin detective.”
“Yes,” Willi said, wondering if the guy expected him to shake hands while peeing. Such odd behavior, as so many things here were. Not that it felt bad to be recognized. It used to happen all the time in Berlin, but this was a first in France.
“I’m a huge fan.” the man in the apricot necktie remained next to him at the urinal. “I’ve read everything about you in French. I’m a hopeless addict of crime magazines. It drives my wife insane. Everyone knows Berlin’s Kripo is the best in Europe, except for Scotland Yard. Here it’s all rather different; the police aren’t exactly on the up-and-up.” The man zipped his pants and joined Willi at the sink. “Might I invite you for a drink sometime?” His face gleamed with boyish anticipation. “You’ve no idea the thrill it would be to hear about your exploits.”
Willi finds he has a distrust of most French and repeatedly assumes them to be lying, delusional, or up to some secret agenda.
As a schoolboy he’d been inculcated with all kinds of racial slurs against their neighbors across the Rhine, that French were liars, braggarts, hypocrites. As an educated adult he’d rejected such cultural stereotyes. Now, though, living here and at their mercy… he wasn’t so sure.
Yet, even he gets taken in by the charms of André Duval, the wealthy and famous financier whose bonds have kept much of Paris—and France in general—from falling prey to the collapsing economies of the thirties. And why not? Duval is charming and fun. He runs off to the races and loves the countryside. He, in many ways, behaves like a child, unabashed and enthusiastic, insecure but boastful and maybe a little paranoid. Or maybe not so paranoid.
Meanwhile, the simple spying gig Willi has acquired through the “friend of a friend” network of refugees turns into the murder of a kid who not only isn’t who Willi was told he was, but could possibly be the lynchpin that brings about the financial collapse of France.
Which, seems like it would be incredibly fast-paced—and parts of it are—but Willi’s usual confidence has been stifled by his unsettled status and his usual directness in stymied by his lack of official title and authority.
If you come to this book expecting the beauty of Paris in spring, you’ll find little of it. Willi’s Paris is dark, often dirty, sweaty in summer and bone-chilling cold come winter. It’s seedy red-light districts and jazz halls of students and miscreants. It’s tiny apartments and a crowded underground metro, but it’s also glitzy restaurants and sidewalk cafes and glamourous hotel suites. And the city itself is embodied by the inexplicably-beautiful but mysterious Vivi, whose sexuality and undeniable allure—both of necessity and wanton desire—nearly push Willi to the brink.
Vivi’s eyes flashed with excitement as she and Phillipe spun around the dance floor, her dark waves of hair pulled beneath a thin beret, a silky, red scarf flying from her neck. She was radiant, more sensual than ever, throwing her head back to expose her white throat as they danced.
She and Junot were turning in one direction then in reverse, clasping each other. With one arm she held the back of his head; the other touched his heart. Junot pressed her close from behind. Their faces came only inches apart. Their noses almost touching. Willi filled with hunger so sharp it hurt.
Oh, don’t worry. It’s gonna hurt.
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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).
Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.