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on 16 June 2014
i would reccomend this book to anyone that has an interest in the two world wars, before, during, and after.
the type of evil portyrayed has to be looked at as fiction with an abundance of true facts thrown in.
it is known that a lot of what happened in the taking of Berlin at the end of WW2 was reality and shows how evil men can be. An extremely well composed book with many a twist and turn. well done Pierre Frei.
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on 19 August 2007
A complex and well crafted read that gave this reader an uncommon perspective on the road to and through wartime Germany, and its affect on the lives of individuals, some blameless, some not.It is also an excellent crime thriller. The foreign tone of the translation adds to the experience rather than detracting.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 February 2008
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 14 April 2013
I bought this on a whim and am very glad I did. The basic story is pretty good - a serial killer operating in the American Sector of Berlin just months after the end of WWII, but it is the back stories of the victims that make this something special. Each victim is given a long chapter covering their lives from several years prior to the start of WWII right up to the moment of their death, and it is these chapters that give the book its depth, showing how the war changed these victims lives in so many ways, showing the growth of National Socialism in Germany in the 30's, the increasing anti-Semitism and belief in the Aryan as the only true race for Germany. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories set in and around WWII as well as those in to murder mysteries/police stories.
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on 4 March 2014
This is an unusual thriller. It emphasizes the lives of the victims more than the detective work, and the denouement is almost done as an afterthought. However the descriptions of war damaged Berlin, and the lives of Berliners immediately after the war seem very accurate. That is until the author has Russian troops brandishing Kalashnikov guns, which were not invented then and only came into the Russian army in 1948. This is nit-picking, I know, but if this fact is wrong, how about the rest?
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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 December 2006
I should state right up front that I'm not a fan of serial killer stories, I don't find them particularly interesting, and had I known that the framework for this book is the hunt for a serial killer, I may well not have picked it up. The reason I did pick it up is because the setting is one that interests me. From the brilliant film "The Third Man" to Nobel laureate Heinrich Boll's "literature of the rubble", post-WWII is rich with dramatic possibilities. Here, the American occupied sector is the backdrop for a serial killer and as the ending for the stories of several women's lives. Although the framing device is the hunt for a madman, the book's real value and interest come in the intervening chapters, each of which acts as a 40-80 page novella about a German woman coming of age before the war, and what she does to survive it. In that regard, the book makes for very lively and readable social history.

Unfortunately, the structure robs the narrative of any potential suspense and makes for rather choppy reading. Contemporary chapters concerning the hunt for the serial killer alternate with each victim's lengthy backstory in a way that makes it very hard to keep track of all the various German and American characters. And since each of the victims is introduced at her death, the flashback life story that immediately follows is overlain with an oppressive sense of impending tragedy. Especially as in each case, the woman is killed on the very night her life seems to have finally turned the corner for the better.

These women include a village farmgirl turned actress, a middle-class nurse, a slum-dweller turned upscale prostitute, a horse-riding aristocrat, and a bookshop assistant, each carefully constructed to show a different aspect of German society. Along the way we get glimpses into the film industry, the upper crust of society, a concentration camp, a racial hygiene center, the foreign ministry, the French resistance, and of course, the Allied occupation, replete with Soviet mass rape and Americans handing out candy. Through the women's stories, we get a panoramic view of pre-war Germany which seems to mostly consist of people not taking the Nazis very seriously. Sure, there are plenty of supporting characters who get out early, and others who get in on the ground floor early, but the general sentiment is one of naivety -- which smacks of a certain amount of wishful remembrance. Frei grew up in Berlin in the '30s and '40s, and the rascally teenage boy who opens the book by finding a dead body, closes the book by loosing his virginity, and spends the intervening time scrounging and scamming to buy a snazzy suit is likely semi-autobiographical.

In any event, when the killer and his motivations are finally revealed it's all rather underwhelmingly banal. Of course, the story of beautiful blonde young women getting senselessly brutalized by a madman acts as a metaphor for Germany brutalized by Nazi rule, but it's not a particularly elegant or sophisticated metaphor. Aside from the structural problems undermining the entire work, the book is additionally marred by some truly hilarious descriptions of sex and the tendency to make significant and awkward jumps in time between paragraphs with no cue for the reader. I'm tempted to recommend reading just the chapters with women's names as titles for the social history within, for Frei has a nice eye for detail and description, and does a good job of making the scene come alive. But it's a very marginal recommendation, as the women's lives tend to devolve into melodrama, and the serial killer framework never really works.
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on 18 October 2006
Just happened to pick this one up as I had nothing else to read on holiday and I'm so glad I did. I couldn't put the book down. I found it moving and at times quite sad as I got to know each victim and didn't want them to meet their fate. As a crime novel it's very good but as a narrative on Germany before, during and immediately after WWII it is also quite interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as did the two other people in my family who read it after me.
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on 10 April 2013
I have just finished this. I never contemplated failing to finish it but cannot really say that I enjoyed it.

The good things: above all the stories of the women (I am not going to spoil any plots so don't worry). One genuinely gets a sense of the tragedy of murder with the victims seen as living, complex, contradictory people. Also the sense of Berlin immediately post war. And since all the stories span the period from 1933-ish to mid 1945, once gets a real sense of the journeys that people had to make through those dreadful years.

Less good, the coincidences and the reappearance of characters, perhaps an artifice to reduce the number of characters (the 'novel' resembling a collection of short stories in many ways) but if so it didn't work for me. Especially on a Kindle, which made it hard to cross reference (at least it did for me), I kept on thinking, 'I remember that person - or did I?'. And the minor characters - even secondary characters such as the police and the lovers - were too many and too often caricatures to be credible for me. (However the central women were strongly drawn).

And the plot - well I got the murderer about half way through. And how he came to be doing what he did.

Above all, I found the sex scenes really distasteful. Not that I am a particular prude or that I don't appreciate a good one but I found these nasty, too many, repetitive, offensive, gratuitous, ridiculous. Yuck.

So a very mixed bag. On balance I don't recommend it. But I did learn from reading it. However I am now pleased to have finished and to be able to move onto to something more substantial.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2010
I love a great detective story, and this is one. But what separates this story from most novels is the emphasis Frei places on the CRIME VICTIMS.

Four or five blonde women are found murdered in post-war Berlin. A spree-killer is on the loose. The novel centers on the German policeman (and his family) and an American policeman, stationed in the occupied city, who team up to find the killer. But, not neglected are the women who were murdered. All were "fleshed out". All the women had played a role, some large and some small, in anti-Nazi activities during the war. All were on the verge of life-changing events that were cut still by the murderer's chain.

Along with the crime story is an often-humorous story of the German policeman's 15 year old son, playing the angles to try to buy a well-cut suit that will win him the heart - and body - of a hot-to-trot girl. (The tailor's daughter). As the author's note says that author Frei was born in 1930, I wonder if this part was "his" story.

This is a very good book.
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