THE BASIS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL TV SENSATION BABYLON BERLIN
Volker Kutscher, author of the international bestseller Babylon Berlin, continues his Gereon Rath Mystery series with The Silent Death as a police inspector investigates the crime and corruption of a decadent 1930s Berlin in the shadows the growing Nazi movement.
March 1930: The film business is in a process of change. Talking films are taking over the silver screen and many a producer, cinema owner, and silent movie star is falling by the wayside.
Celebrated actress Betty Winter is hit by a spotlight while filming a talkie. At first it looks like an accident, but Superintendent Gereon Rath findsclues that point to murder. While his colleagues suspect the absconded lighting technician, Rath’s investigations take him in a completely different direction, and he is soon left on his own.
Steering clear of his superior who wants him off the case, Rath’s life gets more complicated when his father asks him to help Cologne mayor Konrad Adenauerwith a case of blackmail, and ex-girlfriend Charly tries to renew their relationship—all while tensions between Nazis and Communists escalate to violence.
About the Author
Volker Kutscher was born in 1962. Before writing his first crime novel, he worked as the editor of a daily newspaper. Today he works as a writer in Cologne. Kutscher’s novels have been published in many countries and The Wet Fish is currently being adapted as a TV series under the title Babylon Berlin by Tom Tykwer (director of “Cloud Atlas” and “The International”) for ARD and Sky.
Read an Excerpt
Friday 28th February 1930
The beam of light dances through the darkness, more reckless and wild than usual, it seems. Until the flickering subsides and takes form in the gentle outline of a face, sketched on the screen by light alone.
Her eyes that open.
And gaze at him.
Sculpted in light for eternity, preserved from death for ever and all time. Whenever and as often as he desires, he can project her into this dark room, into this dark life. A life whose wretched darkness only one thing can illuminate: a dancing beam of light on the screen.
He sees her pupils dilate. Sees because he knows precisely what she is feeling. Something that is foreign to her and so familiar to him. He feels so close to her. Almost like in that moment captured there forever on celluloid.
She looks at him and understands, or believes she understands.
Her hands grip her throat, as if fearing she will choke.
She doesn't feel any great pain, merely notes that something is different.
That something is missing.
That unbearable false voice which doesn't belong to her. He has freed her from the voice which suddenly took possession of her like a strange, wicked power.
She tries to say something.
Her eyes display more surprise than horror, she doesn't understand that he loves her, that he has only acted out of love for her, for her true angelic nature.
But it's not about her understanding.
She opens her mouth and it's just like before. At last he hears it again, her own voice has returned! Her true voice, which is eternal and cannot be taken away by anyone, which stands outside of time and has nothing of the present day's dirt and vulgarity.
The voice that enchanted him when he heard it for the first time. The way it spoke to him, to him alone, despite the many others sitting alongside.
He can scarcely bear how she is looking at him. She has gazed out over the edge, has seen everything, not long now and she will lose her balance.
The moment she goes to ground.
Her gaze, which is suddenly so different.
The premonition of death in her eyes.
The knowledge that she will die.
That she will die now.
No going back.
To her eyes.
The man in the tuxedo smiled calmly at the woman in green silk, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a glass of cognac. His eyelids didn't so much as flutter as she came to a halt just centimetres in front of him.
'Did I hear you right?' she hissed, shaking and breathing heavily.
He took a sip of cognac and smirked. 'Looking at those delightful ears, I can hardly imagine them hearing wrong!'
'You really think you can treat me like that?'
He seemed to enjoy her anger; the angrier she became, the more insolent his smirk. He paused as if giving the question serious thought. 'Yes, actually. If I'm not mistaken, that's exactly how you let Herr von Kessler treat you. Well, isn't it?'
'I don't think that's any of your concern, my dear Count Thorwald!'
He watched with amusement as she placed her hands on her hips. There was a flash of lightning from outside the window.
'That's not an answer,' he said, gazing into his cognac.
'Well then, how's this?'
She'd raised her hand before even finishing the sentence. He closed his eyes in anticipation of a resounding slap that never arrived. A loud shout, which seemed to come from another world, was enough to freeze all their movements with instant effect.
For a fraction of a second, they were both so rooted to the spot that it might have been a photograph. Then she lowered her hand, he opened his eyes, and together they turned their heads and gazed into the darkness, to where the parquet on which they were standing gave way to a dirty concrete floor. Squinting into the wall of light, she could just discern the outline of a folding chair and the man who had shut everything down with a single syllable. He now hung his headphones over the chair and stepped into the light, a wiry-looking fellow, tie loosely knotted and shirtsleeves rolled up. His speaking voice was velvety soft.
'You were facing the wrong way, Betty, my angel,' he said. 'The microphones didn't catch you.'
'The microphones, the microphones! I can't listen to it any longer, Jo! This has nothing to do with film.' A quick sidelong glance at the sound engineer was enough to make the man pushing the buttons go red with embarrassment. 'Film,' she continued, 'film is light and shadow, surely I don't have to explain that to the great Josef Dressler! My face on celluloid, Jo! My appeal isn't based on ... microphones!'
She stressed the last word so that it sounded like a newly discovered and particularly revolting species of insect.
Dressler took a deep breath before answering. 'I know you haven't required your voice before, Betty,' he said, 'but that was the past. Your future begins with this film, and the future talks!'
'Nonsense! There are lots of people who haven't taken leave of their senses still shooting real films without microphones. Do you think the great Chaplin is wrong? Who's to say sound films aren't just a fashion everyone's trying to keep up with, only to be forgotten when something else comes along?'
Dressler looked at her in astonishment, as if someone else had been speaking. 'Me,' he said. 'All of us. You as well. Talkies are made for you, just as you are made for talkies. Sound films are going to make you huge. All you have to do is remember to speak in the right direction.'
'Remember? It's not about memory! When I play a role, I need to live it!' 'Then live your role, but make sure you speak in Victor's direction – and don't raise your hand until you've finished your line.'
'One more thing. You only need to tap him. You're not supposed to hear the slap, just the thunder.'
Everyone on set laughed, Betty included. The trouble had blown over, and the atmosphere was relaxed again. Only Jo Dressler could do that, and Betty loved him for it.
'Starting positions, let's take it from the top!'
The director returned to his place and put his headphones back on. Betty resumed her position by the door, while Victor remained by the fireplace and reset his expression. As activity continued noisily behind the scenes, Betty concentrated on her part. She was a hotel employee, grappling with the consequences of pretending to be a millionaire's daughter for the sake of her boss, and outraged at the insinuations this conman was making. This conman whom she would still kiss at the end of the scene – and who, far from being an arrogant trickster, would turn out to be modesty incarnate.
Sound and camera came back on, and the studio fell quiet as a church.
The clapperboard cut the silence.
'Liebesgewitter, scene fifty-three, take two!'
'And, action,' she heard Dressler say.
Victor said his piece, and she worked herself into her film rage. She knew exactly where the camera was, as she always did, but acted as if there were no glass eye capturing her every movement.
She assumed her position by the fireplace and laid into Victor. A heavy microphone was hanging over his head, which she ignored, just as she ignored the cameras. She just had to speak to Victor. It was quite simple, Jo was right, and she knew she was good. As long as Victor didn't fluff his lines, which was always a possibility, they'd soon have the scene in the can. She registered the lightning; which had come at the right time, and let herself be carried by her own rhythm. She counted slowly backwards and uttered the scene's final words.
'Well then, how's this?'
Now ... but she had hit him too hard! Well, Victor would live. It would make their quarrel seem all the more realistic.
Only now did she realise something wasn't right.
There was no thunder.
Just a high-pitched, metallic noise, a soft pling. A small metal part must have fallen to the floor behind her.
She closed her eyes. No, please no! Not some stupid technical hitch! Not when she had been so good!
'Shit,' said Dressler. 'Cu-ut!'
Although her eyes were closed she noticed the lighting change. Then it seemed a giant hammer struck her on the shoulder, the upper arm, the neck, with irresistible force, and when she opened her eyes again she found herself on the floor. What had happened? She heard a crack and sensed it had come from her body. She must have broken something. The pain gripped her so suddenly, so brutally, that for a moment everything went black. Above her she saw the cloths and steel trusses on the roof of the studio, and Victor's horrified face staring at her before disappearing from her field of vision.
She tried to get up but couldn't; something was burning her face, burning her hair, the whole of her left side. It was unbearable, but she couldn't even turn her head. Something was pressing her to the floor, scalding her. She tried to escape the pain, but her legs wouldn't obey, they wouldn't move any more, no part of her body would. Like an army of mutineers, it refused every command. She smelt singed hair and scorched skin, heard someone screaming. It must be her own voice, and yet it seemed as if it was someone else, as if it couldn't be her. Whoever was screaming and writhing and refusing to move was no longer a part of her, but a separate entity that could do nothing now but scream, scream, scream.
Victor's face returned, not smirking anymore, but grimacing, eyes wide open and staring at her. His mouth was strangely distorted, not the face of his screen heroes, but resolute nonetheless. Only when she saw the water heading towards her, a shapeless jellyfish that seemed to hang forever in the air before reaching her, only then, in that endless moment, did she realise what he was doing and that this would be the last thing she ever saw.
Then there was only a glistening light that enveloped her completely. No, more than that: she herself was light, for a fraction of a second she was part of a luminosity never before experienced. Never before had she seen so clearly, and yet in the same moment she knew it was precisely this luminosity that would plunge her into darkness, irretrievably and for ever.
Sch. defended herself stoutly. Nevertheless, 'Baumgart' forced her onto her back and tried to pull down her breeches. In response to her threat that she would scream if he didn't let her alone, 'Baumgart' sneered that she could scream all she liked, no one would hear. In the ensuing struggle, Sch. said she would rather die than bend to his will, to which 'Baumgart' replied: 'Then you shall die ...'
'Would the gentleman like anything else?'
'Then you shall die,' he mumbled.
Rath looked up from his journal at a waiter standing at his table, a tray of dirty crockery in one hand. 'Forget it,' Rath said. 'It's not important.'
'Can I bring you anything else, Sir?'
'Not at the moment, thank you. I'm waiting for someone.'
'Very good.' The waiter cleared Rath's empty coffee cup from the table and moved off, a penguin in a huff, balancing his tray through the rows of chairs.
The café was slowly filling up. Soon he would have to defend the free chair on his table. She was unusually late. Hadn't she understood what this was about? Or had she understood and decided to stay away as a result?
She shouldn't have telephoned him at the office. She didn't get it. She had been trying to do him a favour, just as she was always trying to do him favours he'd never asked for. That was the only reason she'd wanted to go to the Resi with him. Surely he must approve, she had said, flourishing the tickets for the costume ball. He was a Rhinelander after all.
Fasching! The word alone was enough, but that was what they called Carnival in Berlin, Fasching. Rath could guess what awaited him there: the obligatory costume, the obligatory wine, the obligatory good mood, the obligatory I-love-you, the obligatory we-belong-together-for-evermore.
The abortive telephone call had been a cruel reminder of what his relationship with Kathi really was: a New Year's Eve acquaintance that had survived too long into the New Year.
He had met her just before midnight and they had toasted the coming year, both of them already somewhat worse for wear, before spontaneously locking lips. Next they had made a move for the punchbowl, where some clever clogs was holding forth, destroying everyone's hopes for the new decade by claiming it wouldn't really begin until 1931 since, mathematically speaking, 1930 was, in fact, the final year of the Twenties.
Rath had shaken his head and refilled their punch glasses while Kathi listened, spellbound by the mathematician's missionary zeal. He actually had to drag her away, back onto the roof garden and into a dark corner where he had kissed her again while, all around them, people laughed and cried out as the fireworks whistled and banged in the night sky above Charlottenburg. He kissed her passionately until she let out a short, sharp cry of pain. Her lip was bleeding, and she gazed at him with such surprise that he began to apologise. Then she laughed and pulled him towards her once more.
She took it for passion, but really it was rage, an unspeakable aggression that was blazing its own trail, venting itself on an innocent party, later too, when she took him back to her little attic room and he spent himself, as if he hadn't known a woman for a hundred years.
She called it lovemaking, and his rage she called passion.
She had been wrong about everything that came after too. Their love, as she called it, whatever existed between them, something he could find no name for, which had begun with fireworks and hopes for the future, had never had a future, not even at the start. He had sensed it even during those first kisses, as alcohol and hormones swept aside all reservations. He had known it at the latest by the next morning, when she had brought him fresh coffee in bed, and gazed at him adoringly.
At first he had been delighted at the smell of coffee, but then he had seen her lovestruck face.
He had drunk the coffee and smiled at her wearily.
That first lie was the first of many to come, sometimes without his meaning to lie, sometimes, indeed, without his even knowing that he was lying in the first place. With each day the lie grew bigger, and with each day more unbearable. He should have said something a long time ago.
Her voice on the line just now, her forced merry chatter about the Fasching ball, about arrangements, fun and fancy dress, and other trivial matters, had opened his eyes. It was time to put an end to it, but not over the telephone, and certainly not his work telephone. Rath had peered over at Gräf, as the detective leafed intently through some file or other, and without further ado asked Kathi to join him in Uhlandeck. So that they could talk.
'What business do you have on the Ku'damm? We need to get to Schöneberg,' Gräf had said, without looking up.
'You're going to Schöneberg.'
Rath had handed his car keys to the detective, and hitched a ride to Uhlandeck. Kathi's workplace was nearby. Even so, there was no sign of her.
Rath reopened the Kriminalistische Monatshefte, the journal he had been reading before the waiter came. Superintendent Gennat, his boss at Alexanderplatz, was reporting on the spectacular investigation in Düsseldorf, a series of gruesome unsolved murders, in which he and a few hand-picked Berlin colleagues were assisting the local CID. Rath had declined the opportunity to go with them, despite knowing that his refusal disappointed Buddha and would most likely stall his own career.
Being chosen by Gennat was an honour, something you couldn't turn down so easily. Rath's father, however, had advised against a return to the Rhine Province, even if it was Düsseldorf and not Cologne. Too dangerous, Police Director Engelbert Rath had said, LeClerk and his news-papers could get wind of the fact that Gereon Rath was still working as a police officer, and everything they had put in place a year before would be for nothing.
But how frustrating! The Düsseldorf case was the most spectacular in Prussia for years: nine murders allied to a number of attempted murders within the space of a few months. The Düsseldorf police had assumed it was a lone perpetrator and in so doing triggered uncontrollable hysteria throughout the city. Gennat didn't believe in drawing such hasty conclusions, and had set out the specific features of each individual Düsseldorf murder.
Excerpted from "The Silent Death"
Copyright © 2009 Volker Kutscher.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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.