Merrimon Book Reviews

(Universum Film AG)

Fritz Lang in his Berlin Flat, 1923 or 1924

Part of Germany's school of Expressionism and called  the "Master of Darkness" by the BFI. His most famous films are the groundbreaking Metropolis (the world's most expensive silent film when released).  He moved to the US, where he contributed greatly to film noir.

Paul Joseph Goebbels came into contact with the Nazi Party in 1923 and became a member in 1924. He was appointed party leader in Berlin and  put his propaganda skills to full use.  By 1928 he rose in the party ranks to become one of its most prominent members. Goebbels was known for his anti-Semitism.  He is held responsible for Kristallnacht by many historians.

Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels at UFA, 1935

From Merrimon Book Reviews
Shadow and Light
Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb
by Jonathan Rabb

Noir historical detective fiction in the Weimar Republic: film and crime

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sarah Crichton Books) (March 2009)
In 1927, post-Versailles Berlin suffers under the burden of war reparations while figures like Joseph Goebbels and the German Workers Party organize.  Kriminalpolizei chief inspector Nikolai Hoffner arrives at the UFA film studio to investigate the apparent suicide of film executive Thyssen.  Hoffner's investigation takes him into the darker sides of Berlin's sex and drug trade as Hoffner relies on the insights of an unexpected ally Alby Pimm, leader of Berlin's crime syndicate as well as director Fritz Lang.  Chief Inspector Hoffner's investigation comes close to home when his activities bring to light family entanglements.  His son Georg works for UFA and his new love interest, Leni Coyle, is an American talent agent for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a rival of UFA in the film industry.  Alienated from his son Sascha over the earlier death of his wife during an investigation, Hoffner discovers that his own son has become aligned with the growing right wing movement, becoming an aide to Joseph Goebbles.

Jonathan Rabb's 
SHADOW AND LIGHT gives a haunting, dark portrait of Berlin society in the Weimar Republic between WWI and WWII, a murky area often glossed over or seen only through the perspective of one of the World Wars.  In SHADOW AND LIGHT, the reader feels the uncertainty of the times as poverty and hardships caused by war reparations create a dangerous undercurrent of political fervor and corruption.  Against this backdrop, Jonathan Rabb positions UFA film studio as the center of the crime investigation.  The reader sees the technical innovations within the film world, the creative activity and sometimes uncertain position of aspiring starlets, the larger business competition between Germany and America, and the shadowy birth of an ominous political movement.  Jonathan Rabb does not gloss over the rising anti-semitism of Berlin society but rather shines a light on its shadowy underlying presence not only in society but in Hoffner's own son.  Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner is a most intriguing central character.  Able to feel the pulse of the city through a crime map, an association with criminal Alby Pimm or high-powered film executives, Nikolai Hoffner is a man who can see beyond black and white divisions to get to the heart of the crime and all the various assorted links his investigation has to seemingly disparate corners of society.  SHADOW AND LIGHT is an innovative historical detective mystery.  At times challenging with a plot that weaves through several areas of Berlin society that appear at first glance to have little in common and a cast of characters both real and imaginary, SHADOW AND LIGHT does an excellent job of portraying a city on the verge of major change alongside the uncertainty of the times.  Historical film buffs will appreciate Jonathan Rabb's portrayal of the undercurrents of the film industry of the time for an intriguing glance at the technical inventions in the works, the insider's look into the economic competition and the use of film as political propaganda.  Though privatized in 1921, Universum Film AG's 1917 earliest origins began as a government-owned company for WWI propaganda.  In Jonathan Rabb's SHADOW AND LIGHT, the reader discovers the shadowy beginnings of the film innovations that will become public in later UFA films.  Likewise, the activities of Joseph Goebbles take on a chilling presence as today's readers see his character through the lens of his activities in WWII.

Dark and often mysterious, Jonathan Rabb's narrative structure can be best described by the title SHADOW AND LIGHT, with a shifting glance at one dark corner and then another.  The path to discovery does not follow a carefully logical or straight path but rather casts light on several areas like the spotlights that illuminate the dark sky in the cover illustration.  Readers searching for an easy detective mystery with everything spelled out should search elsewhere.  On the other hand, fans of noir fiction searching for a new narrative voice that challenges the reader's intellect, literary imagination and historical curiosity will find a reading gem in SHADOW AND LIGHT.

ROSA by Jonathan Rabb

Previous Chief Inspector Hoffner novel

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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