An historical novel that’s good but not good enough

A review of A Night of Long Knives: A Hannah Vogel Novel, by Rebecca Cantrell

@@@ (3 out of 5)

With A Trace of Smoke, Rebecca Cantrell launched the Hannah Vogel series in 2009, capturing reviewers’ attention with the fidelity of her portrayal of Germany in 1931, with the Weimar Republic in decline. In A Night of Long Knives, the sequel, Cantrell reaches further into the realm of coincidence and contrivance to paint a portrait of 1934 Germany, one year after Hitler’s forced takeover of the government. The first book was decidedly better.

The title, A Night of Long Knives, refers to the pivotal event in the novel: the time — three days really: June 30 through July 2, 1934 — when the Nazis conducted a violent purge of their ranks, reportedly executing hundreds and later passing a law making the murders legal. The focus of The Night of Long Knives, as that time is known to history, was Ernst Rohm, one of Hitler’s oldest friends, a flamboyant homosexual, and the leader of the brown-shirted stormtroopers, the SA, that had borne Hitler to power. Rohm, a central character in A Trace of Smoke as well as this sequel, had lost a struggle for Hitler’s patronage to Heinrich Himmler and his SS.

Both books’ protagonist is Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter for one of Berlin’s leading newspapers, who was forced to flee Germany after a risky encounter with Rohm and other dangerous individuals at the conclusion of A Trace of Smoke. Now, three years later, we find her improbably returning to Germany with her adopted 9-year-old son, Anton, whom Rohm insists is his son. In the story that ensues from their kidnapping by Rohm and his henchmen, the two are separated, and Hannah undertakes a desperate and convoluted journey through the depths of German society in hopes of recovering the boy. It is, of course, no surprise that she succeeds in this effort. What transpires along the way reveals a good deal about the dramatic range of attitudes toward Hitler and the Nazis among the German people of that era. The story piques curiosity and is reasonably well written, but it lacks the drive and suspense of its predecessor.

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Filed under Historical Novels, Trade Fiction

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