The Second Son

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Overview

An Intriguing Historical Thriller Set in the Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War

 

On the eve of Hitler’s Olympics, Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner, a half Jew, has been forced out of the Kriminalpolizei. Luckily, Hoffner’s focus is elsewhere. His son Georg is missing in Spain, swept up in the sudden outbreak of the civil war. He has already lost Sascha, his elder son, who is fully entrenched in the Nazi regime. But Georg is not what he ...

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The Second Son: A Novel

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Overview

An Intriguing Historical Thriller Set in the Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War

 

On the eve of Hitler’s Olympics, Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner, a half Jew, has been forced out of the Kriminalpolizei. Luckily, Hoffner’s focus is elsewhere. His son Georg is missing in Spain, swept up in the sudden outbreak of the civil war. He has already lost Sascha, his elder son, who is fully entrenched in the Nazi regime. But Georg is not what he appears to be, and when Hoffner discovers this, he is determined to save the one son he can.

 

The Second Son is the eagerly awaited final installment in Jonathan Rabb’s Berlin trilogy, set between the two world wars. In Harper’s Magazine, John Leonard called the first, Rosa, “a ghostly noir that could have been conspired at by Raymond Chandler and André Malraux.” The second, Shadow and Light (2009), garnered rave reviews—in The Washington Post, Wendy Smith praised its “atmosphere” and “brilliantly plotted narrative.” Now, nearly ten years after the events of Shadow and Light, Hoffner finds himself tossed into the chaos that is Spain— where he quickly meets anarchists, Soviet and British secret agents, and a female doctor called Mila Pera—as he follows a trail of clues left by Georg.

 

In the spirit of Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst—whose Foreign Correspondent also took place in the mountains of Spain—Rabb delivers another atmospheric work, rich with his storytelling talent and historical expertise.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1936, Rabb's gripping conclusion to his Berlin noir trilogy featuring Chief Insp. Nikolai Hoffner (after Rosa and Shadow and Light) finds the 62-year-old Hoffner forced into retirement because the Nazis have discovered that his late mother was Jewish. Meanwhile, Hoffner's filmmaker second son, Georg, has left his wife and son in Berlin to travel to Barcelona, where the People's Olympics, games intended to protest the spectacle of Hitler's Olympics, are scheduled to take place. But the outbreak of civil war in Spain ensures that these alternative games never happen. Letters that Georg pens to his wife describing the conflicting factions—well-organized Fascists on the right, a motley array of socialists and anarchists on the left—will resonate with admirers of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. After Georg goes missing, Hoffner embarks on a dangerous and perhaps quixotic search to bring his son safely home. Fans of Alan Furst and Philip Kerr will be rewarded. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
The Second Son is an unusual blend of hard-boiled detective novel and love story . . . the narrative never flags. It proves that first-rate detectives are like good lovers and good novelists: keenly observant, intuitive and tough as nails.” —Tara McKelvey, The New York Times Book Review

“Rabb works wonders, juggling Nazi sympathizers and anarchists and guilty bystanders and innocent warriors with an alacrity few in his generation can maintain . . . Inspector Hoffner flies off into the oncoming darkness, having accomplished Rabb’s mission, of carrying to completion this engrossing trilogy on his strong shoulders.” —Alan Cheuse, The Dallas Morning News

“A powerful, shocking and moving novel . . . Rabb is an accomplished storyteller as well as a superb stylist, and the conclusion of his trilogy is at once affecting and effective in its portrayal of the run-up to a global nightmare.” —Jay Strafford, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“The chaos of the war provides an evocative backdrop for this unlikely, noir-tinged story of a cynical father chasing after his idealistic son . . . This is Alan Furst territory, but it will also resonate for readers of European antiwar fiction, from All Quiet on the Western Front to The Good Soldier Schweik.” —Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)

“Gripping . . . Fans of Alan Furst and Philip Kerr will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly

“An exhilarating bittersweet thriller that brings to life Spain during the violent civil war.” —Harriet Klausner, Genre Go Round

“Questions of political intrigue are all handled with expertise. The story’s tempo builds and crescendos with a surprising denouement that will leave readers satisfied. Fans of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and Olen Steinhauer will feel very much at home with Rabb’s The Second Son, and readers of the Spanish Civil War will nod their heads in approval of how well Rabb researched this very important time in history when the world was at the cusp of a long and tragic war.” —Rebeca Schiller, “Alvah’s Books”

“Rabb writes with the authority that comes from sure-handed research . . . [his] focus on history allows him to explore the tension between personal lives and the sweep of public events, arguably the novel’s greatest strength.” —Tom Glenn, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“This intense tale of a father seeking his two lost sons but finding an uncommonly resilient woman takes place in the mounting violence of Europe in July–August 1936. Just offstage are events we thought we knew well: the Berlin Olympics and the revolt of the generals that is plunging Spain into civil war. With Jonathan Rabb’s characters, we relive these events at street level, in gritty and authentic detail.” —Robert O. Paxton, author of The Anatomy of Fascism and Vichy France

Library Journal
This is the final novel in a trilogy (Rosa; Shadow and Light) following the life and fortunes of Berlin Chief Insp. Nikolai Hoffner. In 1934, Germany is trying to lure the Olympics to Berlin with a front that papers over the regime's violence, corruption, and racism. The half-Jewish Hoffner has finally been forced out of the Kriminalpolizei. As the Spanish civil war heats up, he sets off for Barcelona to find his missing son, Georg. Rabb creates a gallery of vivid characters—Spanish nationalists, anarchists, and secret agents of three nations playing games with Spain's future. The plot becomes convoluted toward the end, but it's a good ride getting there, in a generally successful novel about doomed people in a doomed time. VERDICT Comparisons with Alan Furst (Spies of the Balkans) and Philip Kerr (If the Dead Rise Not) are inevitable—all write noir novels set in Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the tense period between the world wars. Rabb fares well in the comparison, not better than Furst or Kerr but on par with them. The best-selling success of Furst and Kerr has shown there is an audience for 1930s noir novels, and Rabb's well-written historical thriller will not disappoint.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Retired German cop searches for his son in Spain as the Civil War begins; this is the last volume in the Hoffner trilogy, after Rosa (2005) and Shadow and Light (2009).

Nikolai Hoffner is a burnt-out case. It's 1936, and after 35 years hunting criminals in Berlin, the distinguished inspector has been eased into retirement because his mother was Jewish, though Hoffner himself is determinedly secular. The reason for his bone-deep weariness, however, is personal; he feels he has failed his family. His older son, Sascha, is with the Nazis; Georg, the younger, is a photographer for the Berlin affiliate of a British newsreel outfit. As for his wife, he had cheated on her, then allowed her to be murdered by fascist thugs. (All quite murky.) His greatest worry now is Georg, who had gone to Barcelona to cover the People's Olympics; his wires have stopped coming. Then Hoffner learns his son is a secret agent for the Brits, sent to Spain to expose the Nazis' supply routes (they're smuggling guns for Franco). Quixotically, he decides to go after him; another smuggler, associated with Berlin's underworld boss, flies him down. The complex ex-cop, incorruptible yet easygoing with crime bosses, should have been more compelling; on the page, gruffly laconic, he yields little, and the story takes its sweet time getting going. In Barcelona, an uneasy alliance of anarchists and communists has driven back the fascists. Georg has moved south, but there's a romantic interest: Mila, a brave doctor, and no chatterbox herself. Symmetry binds them; she too has lost a relative, a brother, to the fascists. They travel together through fascist territory in pursuit of Georg. There are tense moments when Hoffner masquerades as a Nazi, but not enough. In the endgame, Sascha makes a long overdue appearance for a final reckoning with his father.

The well-researched Civil War details elbow aside the family drama, to the novel's detriment.

Tara McKelvey
…the narrative never flags. It proves that first-rate detectives are like good lovers and good novelists: keenly observant, intuitive and tough as nails.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374299132
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 2/15/2011
  • Series: Nikolai Hoffner Series , #3
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rabb is the author of four previous novels: Shadow and Light, Rosa, The Overseer, and The Book of Q. He lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife and twin children.

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Read an Excerpt

The Second Son

A Novel
By Jonathan Rabb

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Rabb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-29913-2


Chapter One

BARCELONA

There was nothing but heat and sun. And, from time to time, the young man forced himself to arch his neck just to feel the lines of sweat dripping down his back.

What had he expected, a German in Spain? It was his job to sweat and look sickly doing it. His cheeks had gone a nice pasty red, even through a three-day growth of beard. He wasn't smelling all that good either, but then neither were any of the others in the row, staring across the plaza, cameras at the ready, cigarettes hanging limply from parched lips.

The young man had thought about keeping the beard, but he knew his wife would tell him to shave it off the moment he got back to Berlin. It would probably scare the boy anyway—"Where's my papi! Where's my papi!" ringing down the hall, screams and tears before all the presents came tumbling out of the suitcase. Presents were always good with a boy of four, even from a father he didn't quite recognize.

It hadn't been that long, he thought. Not this time—had it?

The young man kept his right arm on the crank of the movie camera, his eye at the viewfinder, as, with his left hand, he tried to grope for the can of water he had set down somewhere on the cobbled pavement.

He must have looked ridiculous doing it because a voice down the line blurted out, "You do juggling tricks as well, Hoffner, or is it just the balancing act?"

The words were Spanish, but it was a thick Eastern European accent that muddied the sound.

Georg Hoffner pulled himself back from the camera. He brought his long body upright, blinked the sweat from his eye, and stared down at a fat Bulgarian with a hand-held Leica strung across his chest. The camera looked twenty years old, cutting-edge for a Bulgarian.

"Why?" said Hoffner. "You have some balls that need juggling?"

There were a few laughs, those dry uncomfortable laughs that come with heat and sweat, but almost at once the line fell silent. Across the plaza, the doors to a vast building opened. Hoffner quickly repositioned himself behind the camera and peered through the viewfinder. He focused on the banner hanging above, hastily painted but still impressive:

PEOPLE'S OLYMPICS, 19–26 JULY, 1936, BARCELONA FOR THE PEOPLE, FOR THE WORKERS

A line of young men and women began to pour out the doors, all dressed as workers, with red neckerchiefs and berets to signify their exalted station in life. To be a worker in Barcelona these days, a member of the proletariat—that was the stuff of dreams. To be a worker athlete—well, that was pure legend.

The fat Bulgarian snapped his shots as he tried to squeeze past the line of Guardia Civil: patent leather hats, patent leather boots—patent leather men with patent leather souls. How these soldiers were managing to stay upright in the heat was anybody's guess. Still, Bulgarians were never much good at maneuvering through large Spaniards with cudgels. The Bulgarian pushed once too often and his camera went crashing to the pavement.

Hoffner heard the moans from down the line, but it wasn't enough to draw his attention from the smart set of Germans striding across his lens. Hoffner cranked as they walked, his arm remarkably steady as he followed them along the plaza. There was something almost Soviet to the way these boys moved, triumphant and bedraggled all at once, their nobility protruding from the angle of their heads and the broadness of their chests. He recognized them from this morning's press conference outside the Olympic Stadium. It had been a hell of a time getting the cameras into the funicular and up the mountain, where the smells of wheat and cow manure and maybe beets—he hadn't been able to place that one—followed the tram all the way up.

It had been the German contingent on the podium this morning. The place of honor. After all, they were the ones protesting their own Olympic games—Hitler's chance to show the world the best of Nazi Germany. Hitler, however, would have to wait another ten days before parading his Aryan ideals in Berlin. Until then, it was the worker athletes here in Barcelona—Germans, Swedes, Russians, English, on and on—who would remind the world that sport was pure and not meant to be used as a tool of politics. Hoffner suspected it was a logic only the Left could follow.

Truth be known, most of these boys hadn't seen Germany in years. They were Jews and Communists and socialists—exiles living in France or England—but still they had come to compete as Germans. Proletariat Germans. Protesting Germans. Take that, you fascist bastards.

The boys reached the buses parked at the edge of the plaza. They turned and waved to no one in particular and then got on. Hoffner stopped the crank and stood upright. The Bulgarian was still yelling at the Guardia. The buses began to move and the Guardia, no less bored, headed off in various directions, leaving the Bulgarian to shout into the emptying plaza.

"Come and have a drink," Hoffner said, as he began to fold up the legs on his camera. "We'll let Pathé Gazette pay for it—what do you say?—and maybe we'll find you a camera lying around somewhere."

The Bulgarian stopped squawking. He picked up the cracked pieces of his Leica and headed over. His smell preceded him by a good ten meters.

The bar was down in the Raval section of town, near the water and the docks, a good place for pimps and drunks and journalists. At two in the morning there was little chance of telling them apart; now, at four in the afternoon, it was primarily journalists. And one or two whores. They were big girls, with big chests, dark black hair like dripping tar, and tight skirts that hugged the thighs like two thick columns of flesh. The skirts were a kind of protective measure for men too eager to get a passing hand up and inside.

"The games are a joke," the Bulgarian said to Hoffner. Two others were sitting with them, all four drinking what passed for whiskey. "You'd think if they're going to protest your Nazis, they'd have someone outside of Spain who actually cares that they're protesting."

Hoffner was reading through one of the letters he had gotten from his wife. He liked reading them over and over, especially when he was sitting with Bulgarians and Poles and—he couldn't remember what the dozing fourth one was, Russian or Czech. What did it matter? These types all got drunk the same way, spoke the same kind of broken Spanish, and tried to get the girls for cheap. But they all liked that Pathé Gazette picked up the bill for the first few rounds. Hoffner liked it as well. He would have to remember to put in for it.

The Bulgarian said, "You think Hitler cares that a few Communists decide to run the long jump? Or a socialist can throw a hammer?" The Bulgarian was fat and small, a winning combination. "I interviewed one of them. He's here for the chess. Can you imagine it? Chess as Olympic sport? This one was terribly impressive after he cleaned his glasses and patted down his bald head. Now that's an athlete."

Hoffner continued to scan the letter. "My son's been reading the front page of the Tageblatt all by himself," he said. "Every word."

The Pole was pouring out his third glass. "He likes the news?"

"Let's hope not."

"How long has he been reading?"

"The last few months. He's four and a bit."

"I've been reading much longer than that. Are you impressed?"

"Only if you read better than you write."

The Pole smiled and drank.

The Bulgarian was leaning back over his chair and staring at one of the girls at the bar. She was staring back with just the right kind of indifference. The Bulgarian turned his head to the table. "She wouldn't go for less than ten pesetas, you think?"

"She wouldn't go for it when you asked her last night," said the Pole. "Or the night before. But don't let that stop you from asking again."

The Bulgarian peered over at Hoffner. "Must be nice to have a wife who writes letters. And a little boy."

"Must be," Hoffner said distractedly.

"I have one somewhere. A wife. Not the writing type." He leaned forward. "So tell me, why is it that Pathé Gazette has a German working for them? It's English newsreel. Shouldn't you be with Ufa-Tonwoche or Phoebus? One of the German studios?"

Hoffner folded the letter and placed it in his pocket. "Phoebus never did newsreels."

"So why not Ufa?"

Hoffner took hold of the bottle. "Not too many Jews working out at Ufa these days." He poured himself a glass. "I'd say none, but then there's always one or two who've managed to slip through the cracks. Too good at what they do for some government statute to force them out. I wasn't that good in the first place." He drank.

"I'm a Jew," said the Pole.

Hoffner poured himself another. "Good for you."

The Bulgarian said, "And Pathé Gazette just happened to have an office in Berlin? How nice. I'm thinking they haven't had time to set one up in Sofia just yet."

"Don't sound so bitter," Hoffner said with a smile. "The girl'll think you don't really want her."

The Bulgarian shot a glance back at the bar. The girl was chatting up the barman.

The Pole pushed back his chair. "I have an interview with the Swedish fencing team," he said. "We're very keen on fencing in Warsaw." He stood. "Anyone interested?"

"Are there women on the team?" said the Bulgarian.

"I imagine so."

"My God. Swedish women in those outfits. And socialists to boot." The Bulgarian was on his feet. He piped his voice toward the girl at the bar. "No more negotiating, capitalist. I'm off to the Revolution."

The girl glanced over. She smiled and winked and went back to her barman.

"And yet she knows I'm a capitalist at heart. How it kills me." The Bulgarian picked up his rucksack from the floor. It was holding a new Zeiss Ikon, courtesy of the English Pathé Gazette Company. The Bulgarian had promised to get the camera back in one piece. Hoffner wasn't holding his breath.

"Fifteen pesetas for an hour," said the Bulgarian, as he hoisted the strap over his shoulder. "It's a crime."

"Enjoy the Swedes," said Hoffner. He picked up his own bag.

The dozing Czech or Russian opened his eyes. Hoffner stood. He left a few coins on the table and headed for the door.

His room smelled of wood polish and garlic and stared out at the expanse that was the Plaza Catalonia. His hotel, the Colón, stretched the length of one side of the square and seemed to be perpetually in direct sunlight. Eight in the morning, nine at night, there was no escaping the glare. Hoffner thought it must have been some sort of architectural coup, but all it did was make the room unbearably steamy.

He had worked his way through descriptions of the square, the view of Barcelona, the taste of the food—a letter each day required topics to fill it. Lotte had written back with things far more compelling: their four-year old Mendy had remembered to flush the toilet twice in the last three days; Elena, their cook and nanny, had experimented with Spanish rice (a gesture of solidarity for an absent father—not a success); Sascha, his brother, had inexplicably come calling—it was three years since they had last spoken. Lotte reminded Georg that she had never been fond of his brother. And finally Nikolai, Heffner's father, had insulted the gardener. Something to do with the placement of a ladder. Lotte hadn't been terribly clear on the details but, save for the appearance of his brother, Hoffner was glad to hear that things were moving along at their usual pace. He would be home soon enough. Until then, he would continue to live for her letters. He started to write.

My love, Have I mentioned it's hot? Very hot, and they seem to think that water makes you less of a man. I wouldn't mind it so much, but I get thirsty from time to time and they offer wine or whiskey, and I find myself no less thirsty. Can you imagine it? (I hope you're laughing. I need to know I'm still wonderfully funny and charming to you.) I smell awful. There's no reason to bathe (see water reference above). And yet, among the other journalists, I'm one of the few I can actually bear the smell of. There's a nice Frenchman who I think has an unlimited stash of women's perfume, and I'm coming close to asking him for some, but several Czechs have asked him to dance, so I think I'll hold off for as long as I can. I ate bull's tail yesterday. Thick brown sauce. A little like brisket but stringier. And then apples, I think, in the same sauce. Not quite as effective. The whiskey was a help there. I miss you—terribly. I'm amazed I've waited this long to say it. And Mendy. I try not to think about that. I suppose he's still trying to be very brave, but I do hope there have been some tears. Selfish of me, I know, but at least that way I can think I'm not forgotten (yes, there are always a few lines of self-pity in here, so you'll just have to bear with me—you always do). Still, I am finding it fascinating here. All these idealists pretending to be athletes. I suppose it makes some sort of point. They're all very kind to me when they find out I'm a German. "Brave, German," they say. "That'll show Hitler." Of course I don't tell them I work for an English company. I think it would deflate me a little in their estimation, and you always get a better reel of film and an interview when they think more of you than they should. As for being a Jew, no one cares here. It's almost as if I'd forgotten what that was like. You say you're a Jew, and they say Oh and move on as if you've asked for the salt. There are the few who realize I'm a German, and the pieces start to click together, but for the most part there's nothing more to it. Can you remember what life was like when that was true? Can you imagine raising a son without having to explain that? They manage it here quite wonderfully, even with their aversion to water. Excuses aside, your father and I will have to sit down and have that talk when I get back. It can't go on. Is he still thinking the racial laws will be recalled? Is he still trying to stay as quiet as he can? Does he still shake at night? I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so shrill about your father, but you and I both know the time has come. Did I mention it's hot? And that I miss you—desperately? It is desperation. I love you beyond all measure. I'm a fool to go away as often as I do. So let's all go away. I've been told I'm trying suquet tonight. No idea what it is. Maybe fish and potatoes. Think of me when you eat. Your Georgi

He folded the letter and placed a wrapped piece of chocolate inside for Mendy. He would post it on his way up to the park. He checked his watch. He had time for a nap.

The sun was low across the horizon as Hoffner set the camera on a narrow shelf of stone and tile. He had borrowed a car to make his way up to this particular park—Park Güell—Antonio Gaudi's homage to sweeping curves and staggering colors and a mind unburdened by things of this world. It was like walking through a child's gingerbread fantasy, except here all the garden walls seemed to be sprouting from trees or dripping from their branches. Hoffner tried to find a straight line somewhere among them, but it was pointless.

The city below looked equally untamed, pale stone and arching roofs, sudden openings here and there where a column or spire might rise from the disarray. The strangest and tallest was Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, his unfinished cathedral, whose towers looked to be made of sand, as if a spider were caught belly-up and struggling to right itself. Farther on stood the hills and Montjuïc, with its ancient fortress and the new Olympic Stadium. To the left, the sea.

Somehow, staring out, Hoffner felt a sudden rush of calm. It might have been the air of a Mediterranean night or the silence all around him. Or maybe it was just the genius of Gaudi. Whatever it was, Hoffner let himself take it in.

A couple stopped next to him. They stared out for a few moments and then moved on. Somewhere, a lute began to play.

The sun spread across the few clouds, and Hoffner bent over and began to film. It would make a nice opening shot, Montjuïc in the distance, the sky the rust of early sunset, and the first lights beginning to shimmer inside the buildings. Hoffner panned slowly across the city until he heard footsteps on the gravel behind him. They stopped. He heard the flare of a cigarette lighter, then the snap of the top as it clicked shut.

"Hello, Georg."

Hoffner stopped the crank and slowly stood upright. He turned.

A tall man with a shock of white hair stood staring at him. The man let out a long spear of smoke and offered Hoffner a cigarette.

"Thanks, no," said Hoffner.

The man nodded once. The hair might have been white, but he was no more than fifty, and his arms in shirtsleeves showed lithe, taut muscle.

His name was Karl Vollman, and he was an Olympic chess player. A German. The two had shared a bottle of whiskey a few nights back. Vollman slid the pack into his shirt pocket and took another long pull.

"It's a beautiful view," Vollman said.

"Yes."

"Just right for your sort of thing." Vollman deepened his voice. "City of lights, city of dreams—Olimpiada Popular, and Pathé Gazette is there." He smiled to himself and took another pull.

"No chess tonight?"

"There's chess every night. Later. Down in the Raval. Seedy and smoky. Just right."

"I met a Bulgarian who finds it rather silly—chess as sport."

"I find Bulgarians rather silly, so I suspect we're even."

Vollman had spent the better part of the past ten years in Moscow, teaching something, playing chess. He said he liked the cold.

"You just happened to find yourself in Park Güell tonight?" Hoffner said.

"They say you can't leave the city without seeing it. Here I am. Seeing it." Vollman looked past Hoffner to Barcelona. "Peaceful, isn't it? Sad how we both know it won't be that way much longer."

Hoffner measured the stare. Whatever else Vollman had been doing in Moscow, he had learned to show nothing in his face.

Hoffner said, "I'm sure they'll have a wild time of it when the Olimpiada starts up."

Vollman's stare gave way to a half smile. "Oh, is that what I was talking about? The Olimpiada." He finished his cigarette, dropped it to the ground, and watched his foot crush it out. Thinking out loud, he said, "I suppose it's what you're here to film, what I'm here to do. Much simpler seeing it that way."

Hoffner had felt a mild unease with Vollman the other night. This was something more.

Vollman said, "I don't imagine either of us will be in Barcelona much longer, do you?" He looked directly at Hoffner. "All those fascist rumblings in the south—Seville, Morocco. Only a matter of time."

Again, Hoffner said nothing.

Vollman pulled out the pack and tapped out a second cigarette. He lit it and spat a piece of tobacco to the ground.

"Fascist rumblings?" Hoffner said blandly. "I hadn't heard."

Vollman's smile returned. "Really? A German, working for the English, in socialist Spain just at the moment the fascists are thinking of turning the world on its head, and he hasn't heard. How remarkable." He gave Hoffner no time to answer. "What are you, Georg, twenty-nine, thirty?"

Hoffner was twenty-five, but why give Vollman more ammunition?

"Something like that," Hoffner said.

"Then you're still young enough to take some advice." Vollman spat again. "We both know why you're in Barcelona. Which means the Spanish know why you're here. And if the Spanish know—well, wouldn't you think the Nazis would know as well?"

Hoffner didn't like the shift in tone. "And do the Nazis know why you're here?"

Despite himself, Vollman liked the answer. Again he smiled.

"English, Russians," he said, "Italians, Germans. Aren't we all just waiting for the Spaniards to figure it out for themselves? And when they do"—Vollman shook his head with as much pathos as a man like him could muster—"that's when we take sides. And that's when the real games begin." He took a last pull. He was oddly quick with a cigarette.

Hoffner said, "You mean when they start killing each other."

Vollman hesitated even as he showed nothing. He tossed his cigarette to the ground and then bobbed a nod out at the city. "You keep on getting whatever it was you were getting. When you need more, you know where to find me."

Vollman started off.

"It's Paris," Hoffner said.

Vollman stopped. He turned.

"The city of lights," Hoffner said. "Not good to be confusing Paris and Barcelona these days."

Vollman waited. There was no telling what he was thinking. He said nothing and moved off. Hoffner watched as Vollman stopped for a few moments by the lute player, dropped a coin in the man's hat, and headed for the stairs.

Back at his room, Hoffner was finishing his third glass of whiskey when he placed an empty sheet of paper on the desk. His head was spinning—from Vollman, from the booze—but there was always one place he could go to clear his mind.

He began to write.

A ladder?

Brilliant, Papi. Make sure the gardener doesn't take a shovel to your head the next time. It's past eleven. They're all heading off for dinner, so you're the best I can do for company. Don't pat yourself on the back. I've had a few, and we both know what that does to my letters to Lotte. You won't tell her. I can't promise coherence. Then again, there isn't a lot about Spain these days that inspires it, so I think I won't worry. Oh, and there's nothing else to tell about the police, except that their hats are ludicrous. I'd try to draw you one, but it would come off looking like a dying bat or a headless peacock. Wonderfully appropriate but not terribly accurate. So that leaves the politics. Yes, the politics. At last. Just for you. I can hear you laughing. I had a strangely unnerving conversation tonight—the place seems to thrive on strangely unnerving conversations—but there's no point in going into that. Still, it put me in the frame of mind. You'd feel right at home. It's like Berlin after the Kaiser, except here the Lefties manage it without a dinner jacket or soap. They take the worker thing very seriously. Lots of shirtsleeves and bandanas. It's Mediterranean Marxism, which has a kind of primitive feel to it—everyone sweating and opening shirt buttons and going without shoes. They have rallies all the time and write large, imposing posters with lots of dates on them. Women wear trousers a great deal, which seems to go counter to the whole heat-inspired politics of the Left. Wouldn't a dress be cooler? It makes you wonder how much the cold had to do with paving the way for Hitler, but that's for another time. (If the line above is blacked out by the censor, I probably deserved it, so don't worry.) I've met anarchists and socialists. I've eaten with Communists and anarcho-syndicalists and Marxist-nihilists, and something simply referred to as a non-Stalinist Soviet. I thought the person introducing me was talking about a kind of napkin until a very earnest young woman began to spew in a much-too-quick Spanish for me to follow. Best recourse is just to nod. The bizarre thing is that they all seem to think they're the ones running the show. Not together, of course. That would be asking too much. (At least Weimar got that right for a while.) The socialists hate the anarchists. The anarchists hate the Communists. And the Communists have no power whatsoever and seem to hate even themselves. I think there's a central government somewhere, but Barcelona doesn't like to admit that. The Lefties they elected in February—socialists calling themselves a Popular Front, which is bizarre when no one really likes them and they're well behind the curve at every turn—are a kind of mythological beast that shouts at everyone from Madrid and tells them how to be proper Lefties—who to adore, who to hate. This week, I think it's the anarcho-syndicalists—I still have no idea what that means—whom we're all supposed to be burning in effigy. And that's just the boys who are in their own camp. It gets much easier when they turn to the Right. There it's basically two groups that the Lefties scream at—hard-line monarchists and hard-line fascists, and both of them marching with crosses. Very big crosses. Vast crosses. Epic crosses. There's a scent of the Crusades in all this. The first call themselves Carlists. They want the king back. Very Catholic. Lots of pedigree. Spanish arrogance drunk on holy water. The second are the Falangists, a version of Mussolini's Fascisti, although I suspect they find Hitler just as inspiring. They're relatively new. I think they invented themselves around the same time the Reichstag burned. Catholic (as long as the priests tell the people to follow them). Militarists. And hell-bent on rooting out anyone who even recognizes the name Marx. Unlike the Left, the boys on the Right actually talk to each other. That makes them far more dangerous. It's only a matter of time before it all blows up. So it's going to be news, and that means you'll have to bear with me. You'll also have to make sure Lotte can bear it as well. I need you for that. I'm asking you for that. Not for too long, I hope. But then there are always those unnerving conversations. Anyway, I'm losing my train of thought. And I'm tired. That seems to be a constant. I imagine most of this letter is blacked out. I know. My apologies. Watch the papers. It won't be long. And Pathé Gazette will be there. Cock-a-doodle-doo, Georg

He was right, of course. The opening ceremonies of the Olimpiada Popular, slotted for the nineteenth of July, never happened. Instead, two days earlier, all hell had broken loose.

"Excerpted from SECOND SON: A Novel by Jonathan Rabb, to be published in February 2011 by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © by Jonathan Rabb. All rights reserved."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Second Son by Jonathan Rabb Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Rabb. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 11, 2011

    Great read

    I didn't know much about the Spanish civil war and this novel was a great way to see inside that terrible time. The characters were really strong and I liked the surprises along the way. Rabb is a very good writer and I could see all of the places in Spain he described. This was my first time reading Rabb so I'm going to read the other books that come earlier in the trilogy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

    More Than Just a Mystery

    This is a memorable book, more of a man's journey than a who-done-it. It is a good story, well told of a Berlin detective in 1936, who travels to Barcelona and then across Spain in search of his missing photographer son. It lacks the immediate tension of your ordinary triller or espionage story, but keeps you involved with the character's and the father's recognition of terrible choices he has created for himself. It is also a story of honest resilience and redemption.

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  • Posted March 26, 2011

    Great Book

    I saw an early version of the English edition. Beautifully written. I knew nothing about the Spanish civil war (shame on me) and this book was a marvel when it came to that. Jonathan Rabb is a wonderful storyteller and historian, and manages to combine the two in way I haven't seen for quite some time. I've already started the first in the trilogy.

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  • Posted March 18, 2011

    Favorite book so far this year

    I am a HUGE history buff and this is a time frame that I spend a lot of time reading about. I've read all of Alan Furst (amazing) and Philip Kerr (also amazing) and I think Jonathan Rabb is one the same level. The characters are very complex but he lets you get to know them. He really gets you to feel like you're in Spain during the war. I really couldn't put it down. I loved the first two books in the trilogy (Rosa and Shadow and Light) but I think this is the best of the three. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted December 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    exhilarating bittersweet between the world wars noir

    After years of dedicated police work, Berlin Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner is forced to quit the Kriminalpolizei. Some believe he lasted longer than a stinking half Jew should. Others will miss his professional diligent work.

    With no where to go in Hitler's Olympic Germany, Nikolai decides to search for his missing second son Georg; sadly he knows he has written off his oldest boy Sascha who salutes wholeheartedly the Nazis. Nikolai travels to Barcelona where the heat melts his bones while the Civil War has ignited as fascists, communists, anarchists and foreign agents compete in deadly combat. The former German cop fears his second son like his first son is ideologically trapped by one of the extremists.

    The third Hoffner between the world wars noir (see Rosa and Shadow and Light) is an exhilarating bittersweet thriller that brings to life Spain during the violent civil war. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Nikolai is downsized due to his religious heritage and never slows down although the climax is overly difficult to follow. Still fans will appreciate this entertaining historical as Nikolai prays he can save at least the soul of one of his offspring.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted May 30, 2011

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