by Paul Grossman
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
St. Martin's Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312601904
Date: 12 October 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman, takes place in 1932 just as the Nazi party is coming to power in Berlin. Police Detective Willi Kraus is investigating a homicide where a young girl washes up along the river. Something was different though; her legs are malformed, almost as if someone took the bones, turned them around and replaced them. Willi is horrified. As he digs deeper, he discovers secrets that prove his suspicions were right, and that certain doctors were conducting experiments on human subjects.
Willi hits roadblocks as others are trying to keep the experiments a secret. The suspect doctors all hang out at a particular Nazi-friendly bar at the end of the Berlin subway line, As Willi tries to visit the bar and just “hang out” and listen, he is pushed away as he is Jewish and his facial features give him away. Willi’s assistant, Gunter is able to run the reconnaissance for him and help to track down the information Willi needs to investigate the crime. Mysteriously, young women appear to become entranced, wake up in the middle of the night, and travel to this bar. It is as if they are sleepwalking. Willi and Gunter are able to trace this sleepwalking daze to a hypnotist, The Great Gustav, who performs at a local club. Gustav becomes a significant character in the novel too. Willi is smart enough to move his family to Paris as Anti-Semitism grows stronger, but stays in Berlin as he is determined to solve this heinous crime and bring the doctors to justice. Too much more will give away the plot, and it is a great one, so I do not want to tell any more.
Sleepwalkers is also a metaphor. It refers to the minds of the German people as they amble around during the political changes as their government shifts. Germany entered a great recession after WWI, and the sleepwalkers refer to the many unemployed as they live on the streets. It also refers to the Germans who turn a blind eye to events that are going on because they are coerced by the Nazis to keep quiet.
The novel is full of interesting characters. Willi starts the list. He is a decorated war hero from WWI. He advanced quickly as a policeman due to catching a terrible criminal named the “Kinderfresser,” or “Child Eater”. Khai, a young man who grew up in a street gang on the streets of Berlin, had assisted Willi in the previous crime and helps Willi again here. Khai is a bond-haired German and he also has access to things in society that Willi does not. Also present is Willi’s war buddy Fritz who is a prominent newspaper columnist and Putzi. Putzi is a Boot Hooker. The Boot Hookers parade around a certain part of Berlin where all the prostitutes wear boots to indicate their specialties. Willi meets Putzi as part of the murder investigation of the young girl who washed up on the river, and Putzi becomes a major character in the plot. The most interesting character is the Great Gustav that I already mentioned. Grossman also weaves in some well-known people such as Einstein and Oppenheimer. They are exiting Berlin as the Nazis come to power.
It is easy to sum up this review. I loved The Sleepwalkers and I highly recommend it. I read a lot of World War II fiction. This novel is a little different because it starts before the war when the Third Reich is just coming to power. It gave me insights into some history that I did not know before.