Volker Kutscher
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
The Fatherland Files’ is a detective novel by the German author Volker Kutscher, translated into English by Niall Sellar. Set in 1930s Germany, Inspector Gereon Rath leads a team investigating the murder of a man, after a body is discovered in a service lift at the Haus Vaterland (described on the back cover as a ‘giant pleasure palace’; a quick internet search revealed this to be a huge building housing various themed restaurants, bars and a cinema). When an autopsy confirms the man to have died in bizarre circumstances, the team have their work cut out searching for a motive and the perpetrator. Subsequently, the killing is linked to other deaths, and Inspector Rath finds himself travelling to the East Prussian town of Treuberg in the hunt for the killer, leaving his team behind to investigate in Berlin. A satisfying mystery with enough twists and blind alleys to keep the reader hooked and guessing the killer’s identity until the very end.

What makes this book different from other translated detective novels I have read is the historical setting of 1930s Berlin and East Prussia, with the rise of National Socialism ever present. Slightly confusing perhaps to the non-German/ non-history student, is the tensions and culture clashes between inhabitants of the two regions. Though a work of fiction, usefully the author includes some notes at the back which help in understanding the historical context, and inspired me to read up a little on that era in Germany’s history. Indeed, Kutscher, as a former student of German history, paints what seems to be a convincing picture of the time.

This book is the fourth in the Gereon Rath series, the first of which, ‘Babylon Berlin’ inspired a TV. series of the same name shown in the UK, I believe, on Netflix. Readers may want to consider this beforehand as, whilst it is possible to read this as a stand-alone novel, the characters are well established and, although their backstories and previous cases are mentioned, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit frustrated at not knowing what was being alluded to. Another slight annoyance comes early on in the book when Rath’s superior officer describes the murderer as a “serial killer”, a term not coined until the 1970s in America. It may well just be me, but the more this is repeated in the coming pages, the less convincing the characters’ voices appear. As “mass murderer” (the more likely, if any, term to be used) crops up later in the book, I began to wonder if it was a direct translation, or if the meaning had been altered and somehow modernised in translation.

All in all though, an enjoyable read. Probably better if the series is read in order to fully appreciate the characterisation, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read more of Kutscher’s work.

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