Author Simon Scarrow has written a taut and enjoyable mystery, set in Berlin during the ice-cold winter of 1939-40. Although much better known for his Eagles of the Empire series, which takes place during the first-century AD, Scarrow moves to “recent past history” with no apparent effort or problems. And he also transitions smoothly to the mystery genre – although some of the early books in his Eagles series already read a bit like mysteries themselves.
The case itself is intriguing. A former movie star has a public spat with her lover at a rather exclusive party, and then heads home in the cold and dark by herself. Someone enters her train carriage, she is startled to recognize them, and readers are then left to imagine what might have happened before her body is found the next day. Was that person her murderer? And is she the only victim, or is there a serial killer loose in Berlin?
It quickly becomes the job of Kripo Inspector Horst Schenke to investigate. This, of course, would be challenging enough in normal times, but in on-edge Berlin, just as World War II is getting underway, it becomes well-nigh impossible. There are political implications to everything, and even if he does figure out who killed Gerda Korzeny, it’s not clear anything will be done about it. Still, throughout the book, as Schenke pursues clues, readers will end up pulling for him both personally and professionally. And in a manner that is a bit reminiscent of some of Donna Leon’s Brunetti cases, as the book closes, Schenke knows the solution, but there’s not much satisfaction in the knowledge.
All-in-all, Blackout is a gem of a book, and I hope it becomes a series-starter – although I am a bit conflicted, since I don’t want Scarrow to neglect his Eagles series either. It gets five stars from me. And finally, my thanks to Kensington Books for my review copy.