There was pleasure to be derived from having a false face to hide what the false heart knew. Maybe, Rolf thought, that was what kept killers like this going when they weren’t strangling or stabbing or torturing. Just the fun of shaking the maitre’d’s hand, complimenting him on his service and chef’s skill at fixing rabbit, while all the time thinking, you think I’m just a friendly face, but do you know what else these hands will do tonight? Such thoughts would add spice to the mundane. Every wave and smile and bit of small talk asks the social world the essential, but unspoken question: do you see me for what I am?
(from The Summer of Long Knives, pages 212-213)
Quick summary: Set in Munich in 1936, The Summer of Long Knives follows Kommisar Rolf Wundt as he navigates the fear and tensions in Nazi Germany to catch a killer who brutally murdered a member of the League of German Girls, carving a message into her bare chest. Rolf and his wife, Klara, are desperate to escape Germany, as they are a target of the Nazi regime due to their political affiliations, but Rolf is told that he will not be able to leave until this case is solved. However, as the Gestapo continues its takeover of the criminal police, Rolf soon learns that they care little about finding the real killer and everything about furthering their own agenda. The Summer of Long Knives delves not only into Rolf’s determination to solve the case but also his marital troubles, as he is forced to seek out his former lover, both to extract information and to save her life.
Why I wanted to read it: I’d never read a crime thriller set in Nazi Germany.
What I liked: Jim Snowden definitely did a lot of research about the political climate after Adolf Hitler rose to power. The Summer of Long Knives is an interesting take on the power struggles that occurred within the upper levels of the Nazi regime and how Nazi ideology led to many innocent people being arrested, subjected to show trials, and almost immediately executed. Snowden does a good job showing how difficult it was for Rolf — a man haunted by his job and driven by a need for justice — to get real criminals off the street. The case and all the twists and turns were interesting, as were appearances by historical figures like Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and of course, Hitler. This was also my first introduction to Albert Göring, Hermann’s brother, who apparently was known for helping Jews and political dissidents and for his opposition to Nazism.
What I disliked: The author went a little overboard with his descriptions, like using the phrase “blonde ocean of headage” to describe someone with blonde hair. I also didn’t think Rolf’s actions always made sense, given the climate of the time. If he was so desperate to solve the crime and leave Germany, of course, he was going to have to go over the heads of the Gestapo, but I find it hard to believe that he would have been able to talk to a Gestapo officer the way he did and still live. After all, this book is set two years after the Night of the Long Knives — when Hitler purged those he viewed as a political threat — so I don’t think they would have had any qualms about making Rolf disappear. I also didn’t feel any kind of connection to Rolf and Klara and didn’t much care about their martial problems, though I did appreciate his willingness to risk his own safety in his quest for justice.
Final thoughts: My curiosity about the case and how Rolf would manage to find the killer given all the obstacles put in his path by the Nazis enabled me to overlook the flaws, and I was satisfied with the ending. The book took a little horror-novel turn toward the end, but that just increased the excitement, especially since I didn’t find it overly graphic. Overall, I thought The Summer of Long Knives was an interesting novel about a fascinating period in history.
Disclosure: I received The Summer of Long Knives from the author for review.
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