The Silent Death is the second of the Gereon Rath books, police procedurals set in 1930s Berlin, in translation. The first, Babylon Berlin, was made into a lavish German TV series that has been discovered globally thanks to Netflix. The next season of the TV series is set to tackle the plot of The Silent Death, although so many changes were made to characters and plot points in the first that reading the book first may be little guide to what might happen on screen. The irony of all this being that the main investigation in The Silent Death revolves around the deaths of actresses as silent movies were being superseded by “talkies”.
The book opens with Gereon Rath being called to the death of actress Betty Winter. Winter has been killed by a spotlight falling on her from the rig above the set. Soon Rath is enmeshed in a dispute between the owner of the studio and rival studio. At the same time his father asks him to investigate a blackmail attempt on the Mayor of Cologne. And if that is not enough Rath beats up one of his fellow officers for impugning his ex girlfriend Charly and then takes on a private role searching for another missing actress. As readers of the first book will already know, despite his skills as an investigator Rath is not so good at keeping all of these balls in the air and eventually he falls foul of his boss, his mentor and his colleagues.
The Gereon Rath books are solid procedurals. The solution is obvious from early on (some killer’s point of view chapters help with this), but the interest with procedurals is always more in how the crime is solved. While The Silent Death is a little longer than a procedural can generally carry, what lifts this, and the series as a whole, above the ordinary is the distinct feel and insight Kutscher gives of Berlin in the 1930s. The Silent Death is not nearly as political as Babylon Berlin but the politics of the time are always in the background including the rise of the Nazi party and their ongoing conflict with the communists.
Rath himself continues to be a mix of intuitive, self-destructive and obsessive but also loyal to his friends, a fact that he relies on without quite realising it. His muse and ex Charly, who played a major role in the first book plays only a small but significant role in this book, but looks like she will clearly be back in book 3. It is likely that the tv version of this book will give her more to do.
This is the second Rath book in translation, and there are more to come. Six have been released in German and three more are planned. While The Silent Death could be read as a stand alone there are enough call backs to Babylon Berlin, both characters and situations, that it would be advisable to read it first. Either way, this is more crime fiction in translation (that isn’t Nordic), that is worth catching up with.