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Shadow and Light: A Novel

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    Dreary and Dull - Talented Author, but a Missed Opportunity Here

    I found this book more shadow than light. The pace is plodding, secondary characters blend together and most of them are droll. There's a melancholy pall over the entire work that makes it rougher reading than it should be. The author is clearly a talented writer and knows how to tell a story. His inner dialogues are great and the dialogue between the characters is even better. He also does a wonderful job of describing places and people in a vivid, polished way. Unfortunately, Mr. Rabb was never able to make me care about any of the characters. And there was far too little action or tension to keep me interested. That's a shame because it's an interesting premise. The shame is compounded by the fact that the author can clearly do better. I hope Mr. Rabb proves me right in his future works.

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  • Posted March 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Movies, Murder, Madness

    A dead accountant, then a dead German movie executive and a missing actress. The beginnings of a murder mystery. But it's more. The story takes place in 1927, in the roiling roller-coaster economics of the capitalist Weimar Republic running the German states after the fall of the Kaiser in World War I.

    At first I had trouble following the story, which begins to gain some coherence only as the case unfolds. Details are disconnected by the terse interaction of characters in conflict. Terms and situations were somewhat confusing, and I found the dialogue stilted at first -- characters seemed to talk across one another, dialogue seemed to lurch.

    As I got into the pace of the story, I picked up a few clues. Unconnected references to Ufa and Neubabelsberg and "the studios" only added to the confusion, then on a thought, I looked up the key term Ufa. Then I discovered the story takes place in the backdrop of the German film industry.

    Ufa was UFA, Universum Film AG, the largest German film producer, in competition with the Hollywood machine, and the key to the events was the development of sound films. Neubabelsberg was the new movie studio center Ufa had built near old Babelsberg in the Potsdam area, as it expanded. And then I discovered a short Author's Note that gave some historical details around the story.

    The story is told inductively from the point of view of Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner of the Berlin police, who tries to uncover then unravel this multi-layered mosaic. We are treated to a complex, realistic story of industrial sabotage, internal intrigue, seamy film production and early Nazi politics and terrorism.

    Organized crime rounds out the unsavoury underside of the precarious Weimar Republic, as encounters with the Crime boss Alby Pimm. The corruption of the Wiemar structure shows up as Pimm openly conducts his business of cocaine, prostitutes and black market coal in broad daylight, protected by his payoffs to the police. In contast, Inspector Hoffner conscientiously probes to get to the bottom of this mystery.

    Well-crafted, with serious characters, this story picked up momentum and elicited my interest as it developed. This is a murder mystery, a tangled love story, business intrigue with political strains and tight historical fiction.

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  • Posted February 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A strong German historical police procedural

    In 1927 the German capital Berlin is a city filled with chaos and corruption in spite of its reputation of a place with no reason to ever leave. Within the craziness of a collapsing city and country, perhaps the only oasis of a functioning government agency is the Kriminalpolizei led by highly principled Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar "Chief Inspector" Nikolai Hoffner.

    At Ufa Movie Studios, executive Herr Thyssen is found dead in his tub in what looks like a suicide. Leading the investigation, Hoffner decides the victim could not have killed himself as he finds evidence that a clever homicide was perpetuated to fool the "incompetent" cops. It might have worked if anyone but Hoffner was making the inquiry. To his surprise the investigator with a tendency to lose partners also finds his younger son working at the studio having quietly dropped out of school. Meanwhile on the case he looks at the deceased's personal and business lives with a fine tooth comb, This scrutiny leads to the convergence of politics with industrial espionage, but not a killer and to Hoffner considering a tryst with visiting American MGM official Helen Coyle. At the same time the Brownshirted thugs of Goebbels who includes Hoffner's oldest son as a loyal supporter beats up Jews, Communists and homosexuals for pleasure.

    This strong German historical police procedural provides a profound sense of time and place as the audience will feel the beginning of a new darker more intense era. The story line grips readers with its fascinating look at Berlin as the Brownshirts are just starting to flex muscle and the Great Depression is in full swing here with many locals believing the unfair armistice being the cause. Hoffner is a quirky lead character as his wry comments and retorts provide further insight into the period while also working the case. SHADOW AND LIGHT is a terific 1920s Weimer Republic murder mystery.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted January 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    1920s Berlin Watches in Detachment as Nazis and others Contend for Future Power

    I recommend that any reader skip at once to the AUTHOR'S NOTE before reading the novel. I regret that I did not. Despite my considerable knowledge of German language, culture and literature, I was largely at sea until the final thirty pages of the plot.<BR/><BR/>From the AUTHOR's NOTE we learn that the historical core of this historical novel is the Phoebus Affair which came to public attention in March 1927. Navy Captain Walther Lohmann, along with future counter-intelligence chief (and future Admiral) Canaris and others were working illegally to rebuild a robust German navy despite the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles which the victorious Allied imposed on Germany to end World War I. There are historical tie-ins as well with the flourishing German motion picture industry, especially giant Ufa Studio. Within weeks of the exposure of the Phoebus Affair, the Nazi party was forbidden political activity in Berlin for one year. This turned out to be a mere speed bump on the road to the rise to power in 1933 of Adolph Hitler.<BR/><BR/>So much for the facts.<BR/><BR/>Author Jonathan Rabb complicates those facts by increasing the involvement of the German studio Ufa, director Fritz Lang (METROPOLIS, M), and his writer wife Thea von Harbou, as well an aristocratic press mogul Alfred Hugenberg.<BR/><BR/>An Ufa VIP is found murdered in a bathtub, in a manner to suggest an earlier film production by Fritz Lang. Half Russian, half Jewish Berlin Police Inspector Nikolai Hoffner is assigned the murder case. The novel's plot is about his moving steadily from one clue to another, using routine police techniques that, to his surprise, lead him to the heart of the Phoebus corporation. Along the ways he encounters sadistic Nazis who like to rape women and beat up homosexual men (one of the Nazis is the inspector's older son). He also discovers an unauthorized offshoot of Ufa studio making sado-masochistic pornography. They are using what turns out be a totally new, pioneering ultra-secret sound track system far in advance of what Metro Studios in Los Angeles will shortly showcase in THE JAZZ SINGER, starring Al Jolson.<BR/><BR/>For political and commercial reasons, Metro Studios and "the Americans" are trying to take over Ufa Studio and destroy the new secret sound-film combination. Hugenberg's media promote a new nationalism for Germany. He uses Dr Joseph Goebbels and other Nazis as pawns. In one secret film studio storehouse Inspector Hoffner finds hundreds of illegally acquired Army tanks.<BR/><BR/>An element of commercial spying and romance is supplied by Metro's woman operative Helen Coyle. She is actress-liar supreme and soon has a bemused Inspector Hoffner in over his head within the intrigues she is spinning.<BR/><BR/>This is a mildly fetching book for students of the Weimar Republic. Film addicts will thrill to cameo appearances by young actor Peter Lorre and his mentor Fritz Lang. Political scientists might smile over Dr Goebbels and sketches of other future Nazi leaders, including Rudolf Hess. The author gives a good feeling for the dark underside of 1926-27 Berlin. The characters drink too much, argue about cigarette brands incessantly. One clue leads very easily to the next. And yet needed explanations for what is going on are packed into the last few pages. The book sometimes reads like a wooden translation from German. An original fantasy by the author takes huge but possibly plausible liberties with the facts of history. I enjoyed the book, but will others? -OOO-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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