The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer and translated by Steve Anderson is set in Dresden at the tail end of WW2. Max Heller is a detective and he is seeking a murderer who is killing young women. It’s difficult to work out what is a murder and what is a result of the bombings or activity by prisoners from all over the Third Reich but Max keeps on searching for the killer because it is all that he knows how to do. He’s not popular with his superiors, his detectives are being drafted to the Eastern front, his bad leg sustained in the previous war is painful and there isn’t a lot of transport available, and his two sons are missing in action.
Then comes the fire storm and the almost total destruction of the city with thousands dead. Food and shelter are in short supply and everyone has lost some or all of what they own. The Russians arrive and turn the city upside down again. Although Max officially has no job and should be scavenging for food he becomes aware that the murders are still happening so he enlists the help of Russian officials to continue his search.
I really enjoyed this book. Although I have read crime books set in and around the war this one is set firmly in one location at a particular time and the location and time are vital to how the story plays out. This is not just a crime story but the story of a city suffering and ultimately surviving both the bombing raid which caused a firestorm and the occupation by Russian troops. The effect on the population is made clear to us as we watch Max and his wife trying to keep safe, calm and fed amidst the horror around them. The author is also clear about how some people thrived and others did not as conditions changed. The different characters have a variety of views about the Nazis and the occupation by the Russians that show how communities can be divided in opinion and how that affects them.
Max’s dedication to his job and to this one investigation is a little difficult to understand unless you realise that because of his previous injury Max has nothing else to offer at a time when some people are giving all they have. He is always professional but he is continually thwarted by people with more power than he has or who are prepared to be more violent. I don’t think that it’s a spoiler to say that he gets to a solution by the end but this book is about more than the detective puzzle. The background and the larger events which happen are well told and this story shows us how it must have been for ordinary people.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought it was well written/translated. It was interesting to be guided through the events in Dresden at this time and to see how they might have affected ordinary people. This is a first book in a series of two and I may well seek out the sequel to see what the author has to say about ordinary life in the early days after the formation of East Germany.