Peter Steiner’s historical crime series centred around Munich detectice Willi Geismeier has taken an interesting course. The first book in the series The Good Cop was set in the early 1920s and dealt with the rise of Nazism. The next two books, The Constant Man and The Inconvenient German are set after Geismeiser parted ways with the Munich police force, the latter set in the final years of World War 2. In The New Detective, Steiner gives readers Geismeier’s origin story. The book opens with Geismeier’s first day on the job as a policeman and charts his way into becoming a detective, including the impact of World War I and its aftermath on his life and his career.
The first section of The New Detective is set in 1914. Willi Geismeier has joined the police force and is paired with a corrupt officer who seeks to have him embarrassed, beaten up and, ideally, corrupted. None of these eventuate and instead Geismeier finds himself investigating a suspicious death. When no one seems to want him to investigate he goes off and becomes a detective. He discovers the killer just as the First World War breaks out and he is called up to fight. Geismeier returns from the War injured and is then confronted at home by the Spanish Flu which is tearing through German society. After many personal travails, Geismeier returns to the police force where he starts to investigate both an insurance fraud and the theft of medical supplies, two cases connected through a man currently in prison, and possibly also connected to his much earlier case.
The New Detective is as much a thriller as a historical procedural. Steiner reveals the killer and his motives reasonably early so that he can delve into them and reveal their powerful connections. The tension comes from Geismeier pushing against political forces as he slowly makes his way to the truth. And those forces, even as far back as 2019, were obsessed with German racial purity. Through this story, Steiner explores the ideology that underpinned the formation of the Nazi party. While there are plenty of theories about the rise of German nationalism connected to its loss in the First World War, Steiner is interested in this existing thread of genetic supremacism.
Steiner uses the crime and thriller tropes effectively to illuminate a time and place and to explore the development of a murderous ideology that drove the world to war. While readers of the other books might find the genesis of a character that they are already familiar with, The New Detective’s place in Geismeier’s timeline makes it easy to read as a standalone, and may well encourage those who haven’t read them to seek out the rest or the series.