The Sleepwalkers: A Mysteryby Paul Grossman
Berlin, 1932. In the final weeks of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler and his National Socialist party angle to assume control of Germany, beautiful girls are seen sleepwalking through the streets. Then, a young woman of mysterious origin, with her legs bizarrely deformed, is pulled dead from the Havel River. Willi Kraus, a high ranking detective in Berlin's police
Berlin, 1932. In the final weeks of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler and his National Socialist party angle to assume control of Germany, beautiful girls are seen sleepwalking through the streets. Then, a young woman of mysterious origin, with her legs bizarrely deformed, is pulled dead from the Havel River. Willi Kraus, a high ranking detective in Berlin's police force, begins a murder investigation.
A decorated World War I hero and the nation's most famous detective, Willi also is a Jew. Despite his elite status in the criminal police, he is disturbed by the direction Germany is taking. Working urgently to identify the dead woman and solve the murder, Willi finds his superiors diverting him at every turn, and is forced to waste precious time on a politically-sensitive missing person case. Colleagues seem to avoid him; a man on a streetcar stops him from reading a newspaper over his shoulder; he is uncomfortably aware of being watched. But he persists, and soon enters the dangerous Berlin underworld of debauched nightclubs, prostitutes with secrets to hide, and a hypnotist with troubling connections.
As he moves through darkness closer to the truth, Willi begins to understand that much more than the solution to a murder is at stake. What he discovers will mean that his life, the lives of his friends and family, and Germany itself will never be the same
The Sleepwalkers is a powerful, dramatic debut thriller of a nation's unstoppable corruption, featuring a good man trapped between his duty to serve and his grave doubts about what, and who, he serves.
“A riveting debut.” The Boston Globe
“Many characters "sleepwalk" through the murky world of this novel; it's a testament to how endearing the industrious Willi is that readers will find themselves wanting to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to wake up before it's too late.” The Washington Post
“Powerfully captures the atmosphere of Berlin on the verge of Nazi takeover, the elegance and cultural brilliance amid the decadence, and the sense of impending doom.” Library Journal, starred review
“Remarkableemarkable.” David Liss, bestselling author of The Devil's Company
(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In Grossman's debut novel, a Jewish cop in 1932 Berlin hunts the perpetrators of a grotesque crime, against a backdrop of political turmoil.
Willi Kraus, the cop famous for catching the infamousKinderfresserchild murderer some years back, is called to a riverside crime scene on the outskirts of Berlin. The body of a young woman has washed up, and she's been mutilated—someone has expertly grafted the bones in her calves on backwards. But before the investigation into this bizarre crime can begin, Willi receives another assignment, this time from President Hindenburg. A Bulgarian princess has gone missing while visiting Berlin, "sleepwalking" (in the words of the doorman at her hotel) into the night, and Willi is to drop everything and find her. Willi decides it's too much of a coincidence that the somnambulant princess went to see the Great Gustave's hypnotism act at a nightclub the evening she disappeared. When Gustave's name comes up in the case of the dead girl, and after Willi and his loyal assistant find evidence of dozens of girls sleepwalking away into the ether in recently years, Willi is convinced that Gustave is hypnotizing girls with great legs, and sending them off into the hands of some evil master orthopedic surgeon. Meanwhile, Willi has become entangled with a prostitute named Putzi, the dead girl's roommate. In order to help avenge her friend's death, Putzi comes up with a scheme that involves her being hypnotized by Gustave, while Willi and his gadfly journalist friend Fritz follow along. It seems foolproof. But in Berlin in 1932, nothing is certain. Stripped of its setting, this book is a fairly straightforward thriller, but surrounded by the dramatic events of the Nazi rise to power, it takes on added heft and a relentless drive.
A solid thriller set amid riveting historical events in the seedy underbelly of a city—and a world—slowly going mad.
Read an Excerpt
CITY OF NO TOMORROWS
Dietrich’s legs were magic wands, slim, hypnotic instruments of sorcery that mesmerized millions. Willi could unfortunately only imagine their charms beneath the mannish pantsuit she wore that afternoon to Fritz’s. Bored to tears by the political sooth-saying that muscled into every conversation these days, Willi had to fight to keep his eyes open. Lucky for him the tubular Bauhaus chair he was sitting on was killing his ass.
“And for you, Herr Inspektor-Detektiv?”
He reached for another glass of champagne. Even though his brain was flying, this celebration was depressing. Where else would Marlene Dietrich have shown up but Fritz’s house-warming? Half of Berlin were best friends with his old war pal. And all of them seemed to have turned out to see his new palace in suburban Grunewald. Sleek, long panes of glass wrapped around a curvilinear living room filled with paintings by Klee and Modigliani. The house was another masterwork by Erich Mendelsohn, architect par excellence of the Weimar Republic, who bowed at the effusion of compliments.
“So light. So free.” Dietrich fingered a shimmering Brancusi statue. “So moderne!” As for the rest of the city, her face collapsed into a mask of tragedy—it stank. In the two years since she’d last been here, the great star declared, Berlin’s famously invigorating Luft had got truly rotten.
“How you breathe here, I cannot understand.” She flicked a gold cigarette case open, joining the others on the raw-silk couch. “Everywhere, the stench of Brownshirts. Hulking like baboons in front of the department stores. Shaking those goddamn cans at you.”
“Because they’re hopelessly in debt.” The general across from her placed a silver monocle in his eye. Dressed even for a casual afternoon in full uniform and a chestful of bronze medals, he had, if not the wisdom, certainly the position to ascertain his facts. Kurt von Schleicher was minister of war, commander of the army, and Berlin’s most infamous backstage schemer. “The Nazis,” he proclaimed, “are on the verge of ruin, my dear. Financial and otherwise.”
Willi’s eyes glazed over.
“Just look at this month’s elections,” von Schleicher chuckled. “ ‘Hitler Over Germany,’ indeed! The man flew to ten cities and lost twenty percent of his Reichstag seats.”
“And still the strongest party,” Fritz’s ex-wife, Sylvie, dolefully reminded.
“They have reached their zenith.” The general pulled off his monocle. “A year from now I assure you—you won’t remember Hitler’s name.”
What a relief when Fritz’s butler leaned over and whispered there was a call for Herr Inspektor-Detektiv.
“You may take it in the library if you would please, sir.”
“Pardon me,” Willi excused himself, shaking his half-dead legs.
Limping down the long, white hallway, he arrived at a glass-enclosed room that looked more like a fish tank than a library. It was Gunther calling from the Alex.
“Is she as beautiful as on screen? Sexy as Naughty Lola?”
“What are you calling about, Gunther?”
“Sorry to interrupt, Chief. But another floater’s turned up. A girl this time. Out in Spandau, under the citadel.”
Willi’s throat constricted as he toyed with the black receiver. “All right then, I’m on my way.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll let them know.”
“Oh, and, Gunther?”
“She is. Every goddamn inch of her. Even in men’s trousers.”
“I knew it! Thanks a million, Chief.”
Returning the earpiece to the hook, Willi stood there. Bodies in rivers were hardly news in the chaos passing for Berlin these days. But he’d never heard of one surfacing in Old Spandau, that picture-postcard village far on the outskirts of town. A girl no less.
Back in the living room, they made a big fuss about his having to depart so abruptly. “Off to catch another fiend?” Sylvie leapt to escort him, slipping an arm through his own.
“Quite a star you’ve become, eh, Kraus?” Dietrich scrutinized him as she might a fine race horse. “Even in America they know of the great Detektiv who nabbed the monster Child Eater of Berlin. You ought to come to Hollywood. I bet they’d make a picture about you.”
“I don’t think they could find anyone quite boring enough to play me.” He forced a little smile.
At this Fritz laughed much too loudly, the long, jagged dueling scar across his cheek turning bright red.
Willi took the new speedway out to Spandau. A racecourse in summer, the Avus was otherwise open to vehicular traffic and usually empty, one of the best-kept secrets in Berlin. The forest pines cast a baleful darkness as he picked up velocity. How Germans loved their forests, he thought, shifting into fourth. The deeper and darker the better. Personally he preferred the beach. Hard, bright sunshine. Open space. This road though was truly superb. A white streak through the wilderness. He was driving far faster than he should, he knew, after so much champagne. Yet the adrenaline rush was too exhilarating to forgo. This silver BMW sports coupe was the only luxury he allowed himself. He didn’t collect art. Didn’t travel. Didn’t keep women. He was boring. The 320’s six cylinders soared to 100 kph. Just boring enough to have become the most famous police inspector in Germany. The machine took the road as if it were barely moving at 110, leaving the forest pines a dim blur. What an ass Fritz could be when he was drunk. Willi floored it and rocketed past 120, seeming to hover over the highway.
Willi’d trust him with his life though.
In half an hour he was slowing to a crawl through the medieval streets of Old Spandau, one of the few parts of Berlin with real provenance. Narrow roads lined with half-timbered houses led toward the fifteenth-century citadel whose stalwart walls still rose where the River Spree joined the Havel. As he parked, he could see the sun beginning to set over the gray water. Down by the riverbank he spotted several uniformed officers in their leather-strapped greatcoats and shiny black-visored helmets.
“Inspektor,” they said, parting, instantly recognizing him.
Even in the street these days people recognized him, asking for his autograph. Taking their photo with him. The Great Kinder-fresser Catcher. A mixture of awe and envy enveloped him as the cops grouped around. A lot of guys in the department didn’t care for his fame. He didn’t care for it either, frankly. What he cared for was being a Detektiv. Enforcing the law. Without the law, the weak were defenseless.
“Be prepared for a mess,” an officer named Schmidt addressed him.
Willi’d seen more than his share of corpses in the Homicide Commission of Kripo, Berlin’s Kriminal Polizei. Mutilated corpses. Decapitated corpses. Cooked-and-stuffed-into-sausages corpses. But this time his heart froze. Even in a city such as Weimar Berlin, maddened by years of war, defeat, revolution, hyper-inflation, and now the Great Depression, nearly a million unemployed, its government paralyzed, the whole place topsy-turvy with depravity … sex maniacs, serial killers, red-and brown-shirted thugs battling for control of the streets … a city that had reached the end, of no tomorrows, teetering on the brink … of insanity … civil war … dictatorship … something … this was a portrait of horror.
Faceup on the water’s edge, a girl was cradled like Hamlet’s Ophelia in the mud and weeds. Girl. She was a beautiful young woman, maybe twenty-five. Her alabaster skin was bloated but not so much as to obliterate her features. Young. Fresh. Alive. Even in death. Her glassy eyes were wide open, warm, dark, Adriatic pools, reflecting the cold German sunset. A smile of tranquillity, triumph even, twisted across her lips. As he bent nearer, Willi sensed some long-encrusted lever in his heart shift, and he was seized by an urge to reach out and take the poor thing in his arms. Around her shoulder, like a toga, a thin, gray cotton smock half-torn away revealed her large, round breasts, the nipples already blackening. He noticed at once the dark hair was far too short … as if her head had been clean-shaven not long ago.
What really got him though, like a hammer blow, were the legs. Stretched out before her as if she were napping, they seemed almost supernaturally misshapen. He crouched toward the orange glare of the water, holding his breath against her stench. The feet were normal, but from the knees down all the way to the ankles, the bone structure appeared … backward. As if someone had taken giant pliers and turned the fibula around.
“Like a mermaid, eh?” Schmidt smirked.
“That’s what we’ve been calling her, sir.” Another cop made it clear the joke was not Schmidt’s. “Fräulein Wassernixe.”
“Never mind that. Has the pathologist been sent for?”
“Jawohl, Herr Inspektor-Detektiv.” Schmidt saluted. “He should be here momentarily.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dr. Ernst Hoffnung declared minutes later, after Schmidt and the others had lifted the poor girl onto the back of the ambulance.
Willi watched the senior pathologist give the body a quick going over.
“Suture marks,” Hoffnung said with certainty. “Somebody’s tampered with these legs. It’s extraordinary. From the feel of it … well, I don’t even want to say. I’ll have to open them up and look.” Hoffnung’s gloved fingers pressed and poked the entire length of the corpse, ending with a quick tour inside the mouth. “I’m not sure yet what the cause of death is, but I can tell you this. She’s almost certainly not German.”
Willi had worked with Hoffnung enough times not to underestimate his talents, but this was magic. “What tips you off?”
“Wisdom teeth all removed. Not one in a thousand German girls could afford it.”
“Any guesses where she’s from?”
“The only place they routinely work on teeth like that is America.”
Willi looked across the wide, gray expanse of water where the two rivers converged. Rain was coming in from the west, making a silvery sheet as it moved across the dense network of islands and inlets on the opposite shore. Somewhere out there, he ruminated, feeling a dozen eyes upon him, this girl had breathed her last.
“Who did you say called this in?” He turned to Schmidt.
“A Frau Geschlecht. Lives in that house, over there. Kroneburg Strasse seventeen.”
He handed Willi a report. The handwriting was blurry. Or was it Willi’s eyes?
Unable to look at it, he glanced across the street.
The house was more like a compound, several old buildings behind a high, white wall. Squinting he could just make out a sign above the doorway: INSTITUTE FOR MODERN LIVING. A sudden pounding filled his skull. Thunder. The first drops of rain. Checking his watch, he saw it was after six. At seven he had a dinner appointment he couldn’t miss. He’d have to come back in the morning.
The rain caught up with him, and by the time he reached Kurfürstendamm, the Ku-damm as natives called it—Berlin’s Great White Way—his speedy little BMW was hopelessly stuck in traffic. When he was a kid, motor vehicles were a rarity even on the Ku-damm. Now, despite the traffic signals, between the autos, trucks, streetcars, motorbikes, and double-decker buses, it was faster to walk than drive the grand boulevard. On the buildings all the plaster decorations, the scrolls and shells and roses of the past, had been stripped away for streamlined glass and steel. A thousand neon advertisements flashed from the sleek façades, their blues and reds blurring in the rain, bleeding across puddles, mesmerizing him as he inched past sidewalks thronged with people pouring from movie palaces, overflowing cafés, eddying around blazing department-store windows. Crowds. Neon. Noise. Berlin carried on. Despite all reason.
His throat never failed to tighten up when he passed Joachimstaler Platz, where Vicki had been killed. A truck jumped the curb one morning and crashed into the café window where she’d been sitting. Glass slashed her carotid artery. Two years and the pain had just slightly eased. Only the thought of Stefan and Erich a few blocks farther cheered him on.
He was a good half an hour late when he entered Café Strauss, a colossal affair on Tauentzien Strasse with seemingly hundreds of white-gloved waiters. Even across the crowded dining hall, though, the boys spotted him and began shouting, “Vati! Vati! Over here!” Willi could see their maternal grandmother, Frau Gottman, in her black hat and fur-trimmed suit, frowning at them for such a display, drawing attention to themselves like pygmies. And then at him … for being late. Stefan, eight, and Erich, ten, however, never ones to be stifled by etiquette, jumped from their chairs, napkins still tucked to their collars, and flung themselves into his arms.
After Vicki had died, he and the Gottmans had agreed it was probably healthier if the boys came to Dahlem to stay with them. They had a big villa with a large garden, and Vicki’s younger sister, Ava, could care for them while completing university. Miraculously, the arrangement had worked. The boys were thriving. And the miracle worker was Ava. How she gleamed at the boys’ happiness, Willi saw as he hugged them. He had always thought she looked like Vicki, if a slightly more down-to-earth version. But her love of the children made her appear even more similar.
As Willi sat between the boys, their little arms hooked through his own, Frau Gottman adjusted her black feathered hat. A great beauty, once an actress on the Viennese stage, she possessed a skilled repertoire of subtle emotive abilities. “You knew of course dinner was for seven.” Guilt being one of her best.
Generally Sunday dinner was at their house, and every once in a while he was late. Okay. It was a far drive from town. They forgave him. But today the Gottmans had taken the boys into town, to see the Ishtar Gate. Ergo, no reasonable reason to Frau Gottman for Willi’s tardiness, since he lived a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant.
“If you must know,” he said with greater terseness than he intended, “it was police work. A young lady’s body in the Havel.”
His mother-in-law’s eyes widened. That he could say such a thing in front of the children! But his children weren’t the ones disturbed by his work, Willi knew. When she started fiddling with her pearls, he reached across the table and squeezed her hand, earning a slight smile. They’d both lost Vicki, after all. And they both lived in a Germany growing worse by the week for people like them.
Excerpted from The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman.
Copyright © 2010 by Paul Grossman.
Published in October 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
PAUL GROSSMAN is the critically acclaimed author of The Sleepwalkers and Children of Wrath. He is a long time teacher of writing and literature at the City University of New York.
Paul Grossman is a long time teacher of writing and literature at Hunter College. He is the author of The Sleepwalkers and Children of Wrath.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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In 1932 Berlin police detective Willi Krauss solves the notorious Child Eater serial killer case, which brings him a modicum of fame though the power hungry Nazis are unhappy about this as he is a Jew. On his next assignment Krauss investigates the strange death of a woman floating in the River Spree. The victim's head was shaved and her fibula surgically removed from one leg only to be replanted in the other limb. Because of his recent fame, Weimar Republic President General Paul von Hindenberg assigns Krauss to look into the disappearance of a young Bulgarian princess who went out to purchase cigarettes, but never came home. At the same time as his workload grows, he has no time to sit Shiva for his recently deceased wife nor spend time with their children who are staying with their aunt. Between von Hindenberg and the Nazis, Krauss struggles to solve his difficult cases. This engaging German historical police procedural contains a strong sense of how much enthusiasm the Nazis felt and the fear they placed in their rival, adversaries, and chosen scapegoats. Krauss is a strong lead character whose religion places a scarlet letter on him as far as the Nazis are concerned as they would rather have the Child Eater still terrorizing people than have a Jew solve the case. Although some of the key support characters are stereotypical and unnecessary (including an apparent love interest) as they detract from the entertaining plot by causing questionable character contradictions, . Harriet Klausner
PB/Historical Thriller: First, let me say that I won this book in Goodreads. The first half of the book was really good & you wanted to figure out the mystery. The book takes place Pre-WWII Germany. A woman's body is found with her legs on backwards; her head is shaven. Then a Prussian princess leaves her hotel room in the middle of the night. She is never seen again, but looked like she was sleepwalking. The inspector Willi Kraus is Jewish and the antisemitism of that day hinders his investigation. There are a lot of characters and the reader has to figure out who is lying. The second half of the book is depressing. It is like watching the movie Cabaret; you know how it's going to end in the big picture. The book goes from a murder mystery to a thriller. The mystery is solved and Kraus now feels the need to fix things instead of getting the hell out of Germany. There is a lot of name dropping of famous and notorious people. The author does note that two of the characters in the book were real people. He also acknowledges literary license with some of the actions the Nazis did [for instance doing them earlier]. It was a good history lesson because the facts on how the Third Reich came into power are accurate which is why the book is depressing.
"The Sleepwalkers" is a blend of historical telling of the Nazi's assumption of power in 1933 and a captivating police mystery. Although the author takes a few liberties with the sequence of events (he admits these), his depiction is largely accurate and is coupled with a compelling story of the protagonist's efforts to expose the Nazi's horrific racially motivated crimes. Willi is an acclaimed police detective, widely famous for a crime he has solved, who is also a Jew. As the Nazi's get closer to taking control, he begins to experience their nascent intentions to persecute Jews and uncovers a sinister scheme that portends the massive crimes the Nazi's will commit in the years to come. Grossman weaves actual persons like Ernst Roehm, Josef Mengle and others into his story and creates an intriguing and action-filled narrative of Willi's attempts to expose the horrendous nature of the impending regime. The author captures well the chaos of Berlin on the eve of the Weimar republic's collapse and the incredulity of his friends and associates that the Nazi's can succeed. Although one knows the outcome, and that Willi's quest will not succeed, the story is fascinating and well-plotted.
I found this story to be well written and interesting. The storyline was, in fact, historical albeit about 10 years prior to the actual events. I think the story actually makes better history that the real timeline we all know from history. The author chose to write a story with an implausible plot - the stopping of the Nazi Party prior to them even coming into power. We all know that, unfortunately, the Nazi Party did come into power. That reality kept me from getting "into" the story. Perhaps a storyline in which the Nazi's lose BUT the communists take over and then a fictional ending to the novel of what might have happened if the reds had become the governing party in the 1930's Germany. One reviewer mentioned that the reader should play the soundtrack to Cabaret in the background. I wish I had thought of that as it would have been a great way to read this book. I look forward to another novel by Paul Grossman.
Pretty good book and plot line. A litle gruesome and the plot was hard to follow in places,but it was worth reading.
This was my first Paul Grossman book and I could'nt put it down! Was SO good and I'm in search of another book by him!
I have a soft spot for anything that has to do with World War II. Ever since first learning about the events that took place during that time, particularly the horrific genocide in Germany, I have been fascinated by the history. It seemed only natural, therefore, that I should read Paul Grossman's debut novel, The Sleepwalkers. As a Hitler led Nazi party threatens to take control of the German government, Berlin detective Willi Kraus finds himself at the center of a strange murder investigation. A mysterious young woman if found, dead in a Berlin river, head shaved and legs seemingly turned in the wrong direction. As Willi, a Jew, begins to investigate the death of this savagely deformed young women, he begins to face a strange lack of support from his superiors. With little help from his agency, his stress only increased as he is called to investigate the disappearance of Bulgarian princess. As he looks into both cases, he discovers a connection between the two, and finds that a large amount of women have disappeared, under similar circumstances, over the past year. As Willi digs deeper and deeper into these events, he begins to uncover the prelude of what the Nazi party was preparing to do and must try to save his family, himself, and his country before it is too late. In his debut novel, Grossman masterfully weaves historical fact with his engaging world of fiction to make a heart pounding thriller, and to bring a new perspective to the WWII genre. The detective, Willi, as well as the supporting cast of characters all contain qualities that make me invest heavily in their endeavors. It seems that, because I was familiar with what was going to happen historically, I couldn't stop reading to see how these characters lives interacted with the history. This novel was the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon, and appealed greatly to my love of history and mysteries.
Detective Willi Kraus is the type of man anyone would want on his or her team. He is notorious for bringing to justice a serial killer. However, at the rise of the Third Reich he has two things against him. First is the fact he is a Jew. The second problem for him is his connection to those currently in power as Hitler is beginning to gain his. Both of these make him the enemy of the Nazis. When he is called to investigate the floating body of a once beautiful woman he realizes he has a monster to find. This killer has obviously done some experimenting on this young girls lower legs, and she is just the first. His hunt takes him into some scary places. Scary because he is dealing with the rise of the Nazis and he is a Jew. This is an on the edge of your seat read. I knew nothing about the Weimer era until a couple of months back. That was when I read my first book set in that time period. Grossman has opened our eyes as to how Hitler slowly began his slide into power. It was not a situation where he showed up with guns one day and blew away the Jews to get his point across. He was sneaky. The title of this book tells it all. Sleepwalkers, is a metaphor for the people of that time. They walked right into the Nazi trap as if they were sleepwalking. Of course, we know it was too late when they realized it. That was the other thing that made the books so wonderful. Since I entered this book with prior knowledge of that time, I was constantly holding my breath for the main character. Unfortunately, I could see parallels between what went down during the rise of the Nazis and the turn our government is taking. I am not saying we are headed the way of Hitler. What I am saying is I see Americans turning a blind eye to everything that happens in our country saying it is not their fight, let someone else handle it. That is exactly how Hitler came into power. Even though I know the outcome of that Hitler’s rise to power and the effect it had on Jews and others, I kept hoping that things would be different for Willi Kraus. It is inherent that we want the good guys to win and the bad guys to fail. History doesn’t follow those wants. This book is necessary read for the historical accuracy, and the edge of your seat mystery. I will definitely find myself reading more of this author’s work.
This is the first in a new series featuring featuring a German Jew police detective at the time of the Nazi takeover of Germany. It was a good enough story but after half a lifetime reading mysteries I found this rather predictable. I was able to foresee many events before they were revealed and found many of the characters cliched. The friend reporter, the hooker with a heart of gold and a wife lost to violence. I did like the protagonist but not enough to continue the series. Other than the historical setting I found it generic