Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Informer, by Craig Nova

Shaye Areheart Books

A few posts ago I commented on the general lack of respect on the part of people who will go to a bookstore, order a coffee & a chocolate chip cookie and then proceed to leave evidence of their presence on the pages of a brand new book. As noted, I had the misfortune of discovering this nasty habit while at my local B&N, when I went to buy a copy of The Informer, by Craig Nova. If you don't want to go back & read the post, the long and short of it is that there was only one copy available in the store, and not only were there chocolate fingerprints on it, but the first page had been torn as well making it totally unbuyable. Aaargh. Shortly after I made that post, a knight in shining armor in the form of Mr. Stephen Will, a publicist at The Hendra Agency, took pity on my plight and offered me a copy. Mr. Stephen Will I offer my most hearty thanks.

I liked this book -- it appeals to the part of me that loves intelligence in the written word. As a work of historical fiction, it is very well written.

The Informer is set in Berlin at the end of Germany's Weimar Republic (1918-1933) and Germany's politics are fractured among the lines of three main political groups: the Communists, the various right-wing groups (including but not limited to the Nazis), and the prevailing Socialist government. On the streets these divisions often play out as brawls and skirmishes between rival factions, each with its gang of thugs, and this fracture continues on up into city and governmental bureaucracies where thuggery is more or less official yet clandestine.  Everything is played according to where one's loyalties lie.

Without going into the plot, at the center of this well-written novel is Gaelle, the disfigured 22 year old prostitute and "The Informer" of the story.  Gaelle is protected as well as pimped out by Felix, a 16 year old boy who lives on the streets with his ears to the ground. She often supplements their earnings by selling secrets she learns from clients, which works well for the two of them until she happens upon some intelligence regarding a man who works at the Soviet Embassy and spies on the Red Front for the Brownshirts. While all of this is happening, Armina Treffen,  a police officer in Inspectorate A (a division of the kriminalpolizei  that investigates homicide),  is seeking a serial killer who is stalking young women in the Tiergarten park area. Armina is a professional and cares about  her work, but she has her own personal issues which are compounded by the politics of her boss Ritter, which hamper her work on the case.

The Informer is not your average "Berlin noir" type of novel like Jonathan Rabb's series (beginning with Rosa),  nor is it like Kerr's Berlin novels, both of which are both more plot driven. It is more character driven, with its atmosphere of place and time acting as the headliner. From the very beginning, the book draws you into the  "malice" (the author's word) pervading the streets and the very air, not to mention the uncertainty of what is to come. In this sense, the suspense aspect of the novel permeates throughout -- not so much as an aspect of the novel's plotline, but in terms of  the future of the German people. There are several scenes in which the author offers a brief foreshadowing of the future -- a line of people at the local vet having their dogs killed as a solution to their inability to feed their pets because of the high rate of inflation, and the description of Armina going daily by the children from the "special" school -- both send a shiver up the reader's spine because we know exactly what these scenes allude to in only a matter of a few years hence.

The dustjacket blurb calls the book a "literary thriller," but the scales tip heavily in favor of the literary side, and to label this book merely a "thriller" is really to cheapen it. This is my first novel by this author, but definitely not the last.  Highly recommended.


  1. One of the reasons I don't buy books in stores with coffee shops is due to having been caught buying new books with chocolate fingerprints on the inside. I agree with you that people should have far more respect.

  2. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your precision and your intelligence in your comments about the Informer. For instance, you are the only one to notice what I was doing by mentioning students at the “special school”, which, of course, was the attempt to say a lot without really saying it, which is one of the things fiction can do. Or, maybe it is my theory that something recognized is worth ten times something that is explained.

    Well, enough theory.

    I wanted to take a moment to say thanks.

    Craig Nova

  3. Thank you for your comment -- the special school children really resonated because of their innocence, and because sometime back I happened on a book that mentioned the later T4 euthanasia program so I was fully aware of what you meant.

    I enjoyed the book -- thanks!

  4. I just added this to my list, absolutely wonderful review of what sounds like a great book. I can't wait to get it.

  5. Gwen: there's another really good review at Eurocrime, one of my favorite spots for crime fiction.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. Bernadette, Thanks for your comment. I've generally had good luck up to now with store-bought books...this one just torked me really because someone had actually torn it with their chocolate fingers.

  7. This sounds like a wonderful read!

    I have not experienced the torn and fingerprinty nooks first hand but now that you mention it I am sure it happens often. When I am in Barnes and Noble you always see people doing exactly what you said here - flipping through books while enjoying their coffee and chocolate gooey thing.

  8. Sheila
    I miss the Monday meme! I've been here in Seattle (going home tomorrow) with a 3 year old and a 2 year old, so anything that takes time is out of the question! I'll see you again next week -- flying home tomorrow.

    Thanks so much for coming by!

  9. I tweeted this review. Thanks for linking, most excellent!


  10. Thanks, Cym! Well-written novels are easy to review.


Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.