Authors: Damien Seaman
a Weimar Republic Murder Mystery novella
Published by Blasted Heath, 2014
copyright © 2014, Damien Seaman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission of the author.
Damien Seaman has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Blasted Heath
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Roving gangs of Nazi thugs terrorise the streets.
A weak government looks the other way.
A divided police force struggles against a rising tide of crime.
It’s a powder keg waiting to explode. And when the brutal slaying of a young Nazi provides the spark, Berlin detectives Trautmann and Roth must put aside their political differences to solve the murder.
Before the city they love succumbs to the flames of brutal retribution...
eimar Republic. Two words that to a student of modern history mean a great deal, to the rest of us very little. Something to do with Germany after the first world war, a descent into decadence, followed by the rise of the Nazi party and the ascendance of Adolf Hitler. The birthing of the evil that would lead to the Holocaust and World War Two.
I’ve never been a great fan of historical fiction, so I don’t quite know what drew me to a curious book called
The Killing of Emma Gross
. I’d only just dipped a toe in the whole ebook thing myself, self-publishing a couple of my own novels after they’d failed to find a publisher over a number of years. Allan Guthrie, a writer I very much admire (and not just because of his Maine Coon cats), had just set up the ebook publishing house Blasted Heath, along with Kyle MacRae. Keen to help this enterprise, I picked up some of their early titles and loaded them onto my phone. I even meant to read them.
One of them was by this fellow called Damien Seaman. It didn’t look all that promising – see my earlier comment about historical fiction – but an unexpected wait for a train, with no phone signal to fritter the time away on social media, left me with nothing better to do than read
The Killing of Emma Gross
I was entranced. I knew nothing about the setting beyond vague memories of Liza Minnelli and Michael York in
. I’d never heard of Peter Kürten, the Vampire of Düsseldorf and the true story on which the book was based. It didn’t really matter. The characters were so vividly drawn, between-the-wars Germany so deftly described, that I raced through. The trick of any fiction, perhaps historical fiction more than most, is to construct your world - paint your picture - in such a way that it seems entirely natural to the way the story unfolds. It’s a hard skill to master, so easy to jar the reader out of the story by labouring some unnecessary point or including some inconsequential detail. Damien Seaman makes it look easy.
And so we move forward to
. I first read an early draft of this novella almost a year ago, and was again struck by how seamlessly the story and setting are woven together. On the face of it, this is an enjoyable murder mystery with enough subtle twists to keep the most die-hard whodunnit fan happy. But it is the characterisation and setting that, like
The Killing of Emma Gross
, raise the story above the ordinary. Trautmann is a fresh take on the dysfunctional copper, his problems as much to do with the rise of the Brownshirts as the traditional conflict between a need for justice and the uncaring nature of bureaucracy. The machinations of the Kripo and Schupo given more menace by the knowledge of what is to come.
It’s not a long story,
, which makes it all the more impressive. Pour yourself a glass of schnapps, put some Kurt Weill on the gramophone and immerse yourself in inter-war Germany for a while. You won’t regret the trip.
author of the Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries
'm sorry I couldn't bring you better news. But I thought you should know.'
The girl on the couch masked her emotions so well it was hard to tell what she felt. Her face was in shadow, so that made it harder, of course. But still it was disconcerting for Kriminalkommissar Trautmann, being unable to read someone like this.
Perhaps he was tired. He'd been through so much in the preceding hours. Enough for a dozen cases, never mind just one.
âHe called for you,' he added. âOn the way to the hospital. Yours was the only name. And I couldn't find any other family, or friends. So...'
âWe were hardly family, kommissar.'
âBut you were... lovers?' Trautmann cast about the room. There were no photographs, no clues as to who this woman might have been with now; no wedding ring on her finger.
âRoth is a very proud man, kommissar,' she said, tucking a strand of her red hair behind an ear. âOr he was. He left me after he lost his arm. Didn't want me to have to be seen in public with a cripple, he said.'
âThere must have been something between you.'
She gave him a self-conscious smile. âWhat did that matter when he had so little love for himself?'
Trautmann tried to make out the colour of her eyes, hoping if he could just do that she might start to respond. âI'm sorry if my coming here is unwelcome.'
She shifted on the couch and tucked her legs underneath her body. âIt's... a shock. I mean... two years. And now you're telling me he could die, just like that, out of nowhere. How should I react?'
âI understand.' Trautmann rose and put on his hat. The skin on one side of his face was still tight and raw from his burns. âI should go.'
She got up then and came to him, stepping into the light from the room's single corner lamp and putting out a restraining hand. Up close her eyes were hazel and the light picked out the freckles on her nose.
âRose red,' he said to himself, âand half as old as time.'
âNothing, my dear. Just something I said to him shortly before it happened.'
âPlease don't leave right now,' she said. âI... I want to know. Won't you tell me about it?'
He didn't want to go through the details of Roth's accident. Not for her or for himself.
âI'm... sorry. This was a mistake.'
âI would have stayed with him, you know,' the girl said, her eyes searching his.
She was looking for a sign that he believed her. He gave it gladly, clasping her hands in his. âThen visit him, won't you?'
She leaned back a little, as though to get a better view of his face. âYou feel responsible.'
âYes.' He broke away from her and made for the door.
âJust say you'll visit,' he said over his shoulder as he reached for the doorknob.
âI'm sure it wasn't your fault,' she said.
He paused, door open, wanting to find some words but failing. Instead he tipped his hat and left, her words echoing in the hallway.
It wasn't your fault...
he teletype ran hot through the night shift, spewing its litany of crimes from the precinct houses of Berlin for the detectives at the Alex.
At 00.21 a runner brought the latest to the Kripo squad room â
Precinct 87, possible murder in a tenement
Kriminalkommissar Trautmann and Kriminalassistant Roth took the call and Roth cursed their luck. Trautmann knew what the younger man was thinking.
Precinct 87 meant a small-time pimp or a KPD agitator; the odds of finding the culprit were long. They'd have to talk to Fleischer, see what the usual noses were picking up.
Trautmann sent the runner to requisition an auto and then run on a little further and inform the lab.
The kommissar expected a long night. Little did he know how long.
hen they arrived on the scene they saw the 87
had sent a whole squad, some of the men outside going door to door under the flickering street lamps. Word from the Schupo on the tenement door was Kessler was running things inside.
âNot any more,' Trautmann said, tasting sweat on his lips from the warmth of the night air. âWhere is he?'
âOne floor up,' said the Schupo. He smoked a cigarette, raising it to his mouth with trembling fingers. It was unprofessional but he didn't seem to care. He chugged the smoke without pause.
âA whole squad?' Roth said, as they passed into the dusty tenement hallway. âWhat the hell's going on?'
The Schupo ignored the question, eyeing a Jew who passed by on the other side of the street. A couple of the uniformed officers stopped the man and began asking questions. Trautmann shifted his attention inside.
Scuffed blood droplets on the stairs and the squeak of heavy shoes on bare floorboards overhead told Trautmann to expect a mess. Sure enough, when they entered the brightly lit apartment there were far too many uniforms in there. A crime scene needed the rigour of a Bach prelude; this was more the chaos of a Stravinsky score.
Trautmann disliked Stravinsky. He disliked procedural laxity even more. He managed a glimpse of a body lying on a blood-soaked rug near the fireplace at the end of the room before calling for Kessler.
âSo they sent me the Mule,' said Schupo-sergeant Kessler, coming through from a connecting room with his shako dangling from his left fist. Sweat dripped from him and made dark patches in the underarms of his uniform jacket. Trautmann itched to bring out a handkerchief and mop his own face.
As Kessler came nearer, he glanced at Roth: âI see you brought Admiral Nelson with you.'
Roth touched the stump where his right arm had once been.
âThat's enough of that, Kessler,' Trautmann said, pulling the sergeant's gaze back to him. âI need you to clear this apartment. There are too many people in here.'
âWe're trying to solve this one before word gets out.'
âYou don't solve a crime by ruining the evidence,' Roth said with a jerk of his pomaded head.
âRoth,' Trautmann warned.
Kessler just smiled.
âWhat do you mean, before word gets out?' Trautmann said.
âVictim's a brownshirt,' Kessler said, scratching one of his chins. âYou know as well as I do there'll be reprisals by tomorrow lunchtime if we don't make an arrest...'
âYeah, reprisals from who,' Roth muttered.
â...It's a tinderbox out there.' Kessler led them past the body to the next room, a bedroom. Then he waited for them to catch up. âThe trail begins in here.'
The sheets on the bed were rumpled. A brass candlestick lay in a pool of drying blood on a patch of floor between the bed and a dresser, and there were red-brown speckles on the sheets and on the walls. A picture frame had toppled from the dresser into the blood; one corner of the frame was stained with it and the glass had cracked.
âReckon our boy came in and caught his woman with some other chap, leading to a struggle.'
Trautmann pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and pointed at the candlestick. âThe murder weapon?'
Kessler laughed. âSlow up there, Mule. I've got more...'
Trautmann put on the gloves and picked up the picture frame, angling it to catch the light as Kessler rattled on.
â...So there's a fight in here, our boy with his woman, or the gentlemen caller, or maybe both...'
The photograph showed a young woman with dark hair and eyes and a beguiling smile.
â...Our boy takes a nasty blow to the head that knocks him to the floor. There's a corresponding mark on his right temple, as you'll see. Then...'
Kessler paused and made them follow him back to where the body lay. Trautmann brought the picture frame along.
â...at some point, two shots to the torso.'