Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trace of Smoke

A Trace of Smoke
Author: Rebecca Cantrell
Forge, 2009
292 pages

It's 1931 in Berlin, Germany, and crime reporter Hannah Vogel is just trying to live her life and make a living. As a single woman in her early thirties, she has her share of challenges. As a Socialist living in a Nazi world (the Nazis are just coming to power), she has other challenges. One of them is her younger brother, Ernst -- a cross-dressing entertainer in one of Berlin's most notorious gay bars. Hannah has been one of the few people in Ernst's life who accepted him for who he was, despite an increasing Nazi enforcement of the (then) German law known as Paragraph 175.

In the opening chapter, Hannah learns that Ernst has been murdered when she spots his photo on display in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead at the police station, where she's researching an article for her newspaper. Without letting anyone else know about Ernst's fate or that she knows he is dead, she sets out to find out who killed her brother, and why. Hannah soon finds that Ernst had more secrets than she could have ever dreamed possible.

When a young boy named Anton shows up on Hannah's doorstep in the middle of the night, things get even more complicated. Anton claims to be her son, although she has never had children. Now Hannah has another mystery to solve: who are Anton's real parents, and why don't they want him? She quickly grows to love the boy as her maternal instincts kick in, and soon she finds herself doing all sorts of things to protect him. (He is adorable.)

This book is an exciting blend of history, mystery, and thriller. It's got an admirable heroine, scary Nazis, and a seedy underworld. It covers an aspect of the time and history that I hadn't read about previously, which for me, is always a plus. A Trace of Smoke ends with a cliffhanger that makes you want to keep reading. Fortunately, there are at least two more novels featuring Hannah Vogel. The next one is called A Night of Long Knives, and I hope to read it soon.