In world war 2 era Dresden, Germany Max Heller is surrounded by danger. The Americans and British are leading air raids on the city by night. The Russians are getting closer every day. And Heller is not even able to trust his own people as many of them have joined the Nazi party and the S.S.’s eyes and ears are everywhere. Having not joined the Nazi party or the S.S. Heller is under more scrutiny than the average citizen. To make matters worse the day after an air raid the body of a young woman is found, horribly mutilated. Now with no one to trust and no idea how long there will even be a city or citizens to protect, Max must persevere against enemies from every side as he hunts for The Air Raid Killer.
I really enjoyed this book. It gave me one of the tensest and suspenseful feelings that I have ever felt while reading a book. The backdrop of this book is so expertly described that at times it was like reading someone’s first-hand account of the horrors of war. And it really got me thinking a lot about hate and forgiveness. The descriptions of the city of Dresden being bombed by the Americans and British sets an eerie backdrop for the story. Then add in the ever-looming threat of the Nazis who make their own rules and will kill anyone for any transgression, real or imaginary. And on top of that add Russians who have a strong hate for the German people and no trust for Heller at all and can execute him and other German citizens on a whim. The feeling of absolute hopelessness and terror is constant. The only person Heller trusts is his wife. He can’t trust the few co-workers he has left. His superiors are either evil or don’t care about the murders, and the German citizens are scared, starving and homeless and of little to no help. If there ever was an underdog it’s Max Heller.
The book, in my opinion, does a great job of making you sympathetic to different sides of a horrible event (WW2). Let me clarify this. The atrocities committed by the Nazis and rapes and assaults by Russian soldiers on German citizens (among other horrible things that happened in the war) in occupied Dresden are all brought up. I do not mean to say the story makes you sympathetic to the actions, but for me it made me feel sympathetic towards the characters who couldn’t let go of their hate. It made me judge them less harshly than I would normally judge characters, especially the “good guys” for their actions related to the events of this book. I hope this makes sense.
You may have noticed this review has mostly been about the war. Well if I had one semi-critical thing to say about the book it would be that the war overshadowed the Air Raid Killer storyline for a lot of the book. In this case that didn’t turn out to be a bad thing, I still enjoyed the book very much. But there were several times when I felt more like I was reading a war biography as opposed to a crime thriller. Apart from that small criticism I really only have good things to say.
Max Heller made a great protagonist. He was easy to root for. Far from perfect but an “everyman” who tried to do what he had to for him and his wife to survive. He had to make terrible choices that I’m sure will haunt him.
Zaitsev, a Russian commissar is equal parts help and hindrance. While at times he seems to be warming up to Heller, just like that his hate for Germans bursts through and he seems ready to shoot Heller and any other German in his vicinity. And given what Zaitsev has seen during the war it’s hard to not be sympathetic.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves reading high tension, world war 2 fiction, crime fiction, mystery, and thriller novels. There is some gore and violence but I wouldn’t say enough to keep most people from reading the book. I’m very glad that I bought this one on a whim.
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