There’s no going back.
When Homicide Detective Thomas Ritter transfers to Hamburg, he thinks the worst is behind him. No more threats of jail time from the Frankfurt rat squad for waterboarding a two-time kiddie rapist. Little does the former special op know he has stepped into the biggest police scandal in Hamburg history.
No one told Ritter that his new partner, Motz Beck, is a moody biker with family ties to mob boss Willi Kaiser, who owns most of the whorehouses in town. Or that Kaiser is fighting a hostile takeover of his crown jewel, Herbertstrasse, from a casino owner, real estate shark, and heroin importer named Sulejman Hasani. Or that Hasani, a person of interest in half a dozen murders -- including that of Beck’s former partner -- has business ties to the Hamburg Senate.
Ritter is put in charge of a homicide investigation no one wants solved. Hamburg’s interior senator has just been found dead on a St. Andreas cross in the S&M room of Herbertstrasse 7b -- one day before he is to introduce a senate bill declaring the street a national monument and thereby off limits to sharks like Hasani. Ritter and his new partner quickly conclude that the only people they trust less than each other are their bosses in City Hall.
Sarda, an American living in Germany, brings Hamburg's seedy side to life, with black-humored dialog and descriptions well-suited to a dark and violent story. When Ritter notes that the prison looks old-fashioned compared to the one in Frankfurt, another officer says, "We’re more traditional here. Still got bullet holes in the back wall, next to the guillotine." A suicide comes across in stark, bleak prose: "The steam took the sting out of the first cut. She didn’t even feel the second…Let it flow. Let it all out." Sarda doesn't stint on graphic descriptions of sex and violence — this is vigorous prose appropriate to the milieu but not for the easily offended.
Ritter has a wounded psyche and his attempts to come to terms with who he has become thread through the book. Also well-limned is his partner Motz Beck, fighting his own inner demons and penchant for violence. Ritter and Motz's joint interrogation brilliantly shows how these two detectives, in spite of — or perhaps because of — their damaged characters, subtly break down a suspect. A pair of sex workers share a romance that elevates the characters far beyond tired stereotypes. With a well-defined cast, an intricate plot, and plenty of action, devotees of hardboiled police procedurals will find themselves breathless by the end
Takeaway: Fans of noir fiction will revel in this twisty story of tough cops, brutal gangsters and other denizens of Hamburg's underworld.
Great for fans of: James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Jakob Arjouni.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B+