It was not as if the scar really disfigured Gaelle; it actually made her face somehow erotically appealing. Perhaps it gave her a look of vulnerability, or possibly a slightly dangerous charm. Whatever the case, that allure could be counted on to draw customers and keep them coming back for more. By night, Gaelle sells the illusion of love to clients from all walks of life, often important men from the government or the military; by day, she peddles their secrets, often blurted out in the heat of passion, to whomever will pay the highest price. Neither line of endeavor could by any stretch be called safe, especially in the heady final days of the Weimar Republic, circa 1930.
On the other side of the law, Armina Treffen, a serious crimes investigator for the Berlin police department, is deep into the hunt for a serial killer who preys upon beautiful young women, strangling them and leaving their disfigured bodies on display in the Tiergarten, a favorite trysting place for illicit lovers. It is inevitable that Gaelle and Armina will collide; what neither can possibly envision are the far-reaching implications of that encounter.
This is the setup for Craig Nova’s complex and atmospheric novel, The Informer (Shaye Areheart Books; ISBN 9780307236937; 320pp; $26). It is only the setup, however, and just the bare bones at that, for there are many factors (and equally many factions) at work and play in 1930s Berlin, and Nova utilizes a wealth of them—the uneasy relationships between government and military, Communists and the fledgling organization that would ultimately become the Nazis; a policewoman working at what has traditionally been jealously guarded as a man’s job; the behind-the-scenes jockeying for position and power—all set against a backdrop of political upheaval and financial collapse.
Characteristic both of prewar Germany and the best suspense novels, betrayals abound, and one in particular will shock readers to the core. It is not giving away to much to say that many readers will happen upon the first act of treachery and say, “Aha, he wasn’t kidding,” only to be jolted by the second (and all succeeding) betrayals. Indeed, both Gaelle and Armina realize early on that they are in the soup well over their heads, with little notion of whom to trust or rely upon. Both will suffer costly lapses in judgment; one will live to regret it.
Fans of political thrillers will be in their element reading The Informer, and aficionados of the police procedural will be equally intrigued. Nova melds these two sub-genre forms seamlessly, and offers the added bonus of positioning them squarely in the middle of what was arguably the most complex and influential city of the Depression Era world, at a pivotal time in its history.