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Book Author: Paul Grossman

THE SLEEPWALKERS by Paul Grossman: Book Review

Imagine holding your breath for the last three chapters of a book. That’s what I did when I read The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman.

A thriller that takes place in Berlin in 1932, when the Brownshirts are walking the streets  and Jews, Communists, and gays are threatened, The Sleepwalkers gets more tense from chapter to chapter.

Jewish Willi Kraus, a celebrated Inspektor-Detectiv in the city’s police force, is called away from a party to the site where the Rivers Spree and Havel meet.  There lies the body of a young woman, head shaved, whose beautiful teeth mark her as an American.  The next day, when the city’s pathologist examines her, he reports to Kraus that the woman had had an unimaginable surgery–her fibula, the bone that runs from ankle to knee, had been surgically removed and replaced upside down, making it almost impossible for her to walk.

While following up on this case Kraus is told to give priority to the missing princess of Bulgaria, in Berlin for a visit with her husband.  Her husband tells Kraus that the couple went to a nightclub where his wife was hypnotized.  All was well until the princess’s husband woke in the middle of the night to discover that his wife was no longer in their hotel suite.

When Kraus interviews the hotel’s doorman, he is told that the princess indeed came to the lobby at midnight, said she had to go out for cigarettes, asked for the location of the nearest train station, and left the hotel.  She walked like a sleepwalker, the doorman says.

Then Kraus discovers that there have been three other cases in which young women have gone missing, and all appeared to be “going somewhere in their sleep.”  Interestingly, all three were foreigners.  No one had put the three cases together yet, but Kraus is sure there’s a connection if only he can find it.

In the midst of all this is the rising strength of the Nazi Party. Although the reader knows that 1932 is just the beginning, there are already many ominous signs in the city.   Brownshirts march unmolested through the streets holding signs with grotesque caricatures of Jews, chanting “Every time you buy from Jews, you harm your fellow Germans!”  Newspaper articles encourage mob violence against Jews and Communists.  Jewish children are beaten up in schools while teachers ignore the bullies.  And yet the Jews couldn’t or wouldn’t read the handwriting on the wall.

Willi Kraus, holder of an Iron Cross, First Class for bravery in World War I, is still disbelieving:  “Had fear overcome all logic?  They still had a constitution, yes? An army.  Laws.  Had (they) so little faith in Germany, in (his) fellow Germans that he thought they’d sell themselves out to a gang of criminals?” One wants to shout yes, yes, yes, but of course one can’t change the past.

The Sleepwalkers is similar to several other books about the Weimar Republic (see my reviews of If the Dead Rise Not, May 24 and The Garden of Beasts, April 16).  However, the fact that Willi Kraus is a Jew as well as a detective and a medal-winning World War I soldier gives this novel a different twist.  He’s both on the inside and the outside.  There’s decadence, suspense, and history a-plenty in Paul Grossman’s first book.

You can read more about Paul Grossman on this web site.