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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 25 October 2015
I wasn't sure whether to rate it poor or low average - poor it is. Overly long, meandering, excessively verbose without creating the tension or character association that you would want. Wasted my time.
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on 29 May 2016
At lest 200 pages too long. This is a simple murder/mystery which instead of the author resolving we are instead treated to endless pages about each of the murdered girls. Boring to a degree. I see Mr Frei has written lots of books. I wont be reading any of the others
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on 21 February 2013
It is Berlin summer 1945. A serial killer is preying on blonde German women. The author does not dwell on the murders as such. More attention is paid to the lives of the victims prior to their deaths. He reveals the hopes and dreams of these women before their lives were ended. In this way also he tells us what life was like at that time. We learn how different types of people were affected in different ways by the rise of the Nazis and the war. He explores the compromises that women had to make to build or try to build a life in a changed world. It is apparent that not everything has changed in this landscape - young women were not merely negotiating the new but still faced the old threats to their bodies and lives. Readers may want to look at the books of Philip Kerr and his fictional Berlin detective, Bernie Gunther. But this is a good book especially if you have an interest in that period.
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on 30 June 2014
This book had me engaged from the first sentence, which is rare for me and gave an immediate sense of what Berlin must have been like at the time. The hopping backwards and forwards from postwar then pre was cleverly done as it didn't affect being able to keep up with the characters, even though there were many, and each likeable with interesting stories of their own. The amount of erotic content was a surprise but then probably necessary in context. Think I had the murderer sussed about half way through even though there was a red herring thrown in. Would recommend for a good story well told in a fascinating period and place.
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on 4 July 2014
There are so many stories in this book which makes it so interesting. After each murder the author tells you the life story of the victim. The murders take place just before, during and just after the second world war giving a detailed description of life in Berlin. All the girl's stories were so interesting and it taught me a lot about the war from the German point of view. A good thriller and a good history lesson. I will certainly read more of Pierre Frei's books.
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on 19 April 2013
The thriller part was great but I really enjoyed the way that Mr Frei went back over the lives of the victims. A very interesting insight into what Berliners suffered during WWII, if accurate. Let's hope that we never have to live through something like that again.
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on 10 April 2013
The book starts with the discovery of a woman's body, & we meet the investigator, who is supposedly the protagonist, & a few members of his family, & some scene-setting on postwar Berlin. Then we're introduced to the killer's next victim, who has a lucky escape... And then suddenly we're treated to the first victim's life story. And I do mean life story - we go back to when she was a girl & follow her from there.

It's not even as if this does anything to connect the reader to her as while it goes on for so long, it still flits about too much to get any real sense of events, & she comes across too flat to see what she's really like as a person. I got 12% of the way into the book with most of it being the life story of some woman who I really couldn't find myself caring about with no sign of it switching back to the mystery any time soon, so I peeked at a few reviews on Goodreads to see if there'd be more of this, & when I saw there was I abandoned the book.

I get that it's trying to be a sprawling saga of Germany over the course of many years, but it's sold as a serial killer crime thriller, & it doesn't really work because it's trying to be different things & doesn't really work at either. It probably wouldn't be so bad if it was advertised accurately. A few descriptions make mention of things like "the stories of the victims themselves provide an absorbing commentary" & "an intimate portrait of Germany before, during, and after the war", but this can mean anything from 'the protagonist has a few flashbacks & pieces together the victim's pasts to solve the crimes' to... well, this.
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There are plenty of thrillers set in war-torn Berlin; my favourites are the Berlin Noir novels of Philip Kerr, and Winter by Len Deighton. This books falls somewhere between them -- it's not written with the literary brilliance of Philip Kerr but it is packed with masses of historical details about life in Hitler's Germany, and how people tried to survive in it.
Berlin uses a flashback device, which as the effect of splitting the historical biographies into stand-alone chunks. This is a little bit disorienting to start with, but allows the reader to enjoy the book in separate sections. If you don't have time to sit down and read it all in one or two big bites, then the structure lets you dip in and out of the clearly defined sections.
There are some faults with the translation, and sometimes I'm not sure that the exact sense of the German has been expressed in the English. Several of the characters morph into a blur, too; we learn all about the lives of different young German women and how they coped as their society disintegrated and it's not always possible to clearly distinguish them (doesn't help that the killer goes for the blonde hair, blue eyed type!).
However the plot romps along and there are enough interesting characters to keep your attention fully engaged. I didn't solve the mystery, and I did enjoy the subplot of the young lad whose journey to manhood is expressed in his desire to dress to impress. I rather suspect that's an autobiographical recollection from the author himself; Pierre Frei was a boy during the years he describes and maybe he was a youthful wheeler-dealer on the black market, too.
What really appealed about 'Berlin' is the level of detail dedicated to life in the city during Hitler's rule and afterwards, as it was carved up by the allies. There's no apology for the behavious of the nazis, but there is plenty to digest and understand about how a nation came to collaborate in the hideous behaviour of the holocaust.

Overall, it's probably less than four stars but more than three. The sexual encounters aren't particularly erotic although they are occasionally explicit. Similarly, the murder scenes are graphic but not titillating. It's not hard to read, well structured, very detailed and a decent page turner. I would look for other titles by this author but imagine this may be the only one he writes; a first novel at age 70 is some achievement.
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on 24 September 2013
A great story with plenty of twists and turns. A real page turner once you get into it; not to say that it is a slow burn. Great characters and a real sense of what Germany must have been like for those living before, during and after the war.Vert threatening for all and this come out in the story. Highly recommended.
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on 28 January 2007
While the less-than-enthusiastic reviews I've read about this book can't be faulted, I found reading it much more rewarding than some readers did. It's well-written, clunky structure and transparent mystery aside, and it offers a fascinating look at pre- and postwar Berlin. While many of the women seem not too bright in the light of the 21st century, I think they probably resemble young German women of their time (and, in terms of having more interest in men than in politics, most women of the Thirties and Forties). I found their stories very readable.

The character of Ben, the teenage boy whose tale runs throughout the book, rang less true for me, perhaps just because it's now difficult to imagine a teenager's life revolving around being able to own a suit. A suit!

And, while the mystery part of the book is a great big klunker (it takes about five minutes after he's introduced to guess the killer's identity), that didn't bother me because I was too wrapped up in the glimpse of life in wartime Berlin.
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