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A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

A Trace of Smoke (edition 2010)

by Rebecca Cantrell

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2151954,204 (3.85)20
Title:A Trace of Smoke
Authors:Rebecca Cantrell
Info:Forge Books (2010), Edition: 1, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:policier, Hannah Vogel

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A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

Recently added bynevadaannie, remy, vnesting, bowlib, IsolaBlue, mancmilhist, slwenz20, Hanneri, ldeana, private library



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Set in Berlin in 1931 the book describes a period not seen in many novels, the era between the massive inflationary years and pre the Nazis coming to absolute power.

You also rarely find such a strong female character as Hannah Vogel. A 30 year old crime reporter who has to write under a male pseudonym for her work to be taken seriously.

The story opens with her weekly visit to Police Headquarters where the Hall of the Unnamed Dead carries on its walls photos of unidentified bodies. Much to her horror she sees her brother's photo which leads her on a twisting and turning journey involving real life characters as well as fictional ones.

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.
( )
  mancmilhist | Aug 28, 2014 |
Really good! Rebecca really researched WWII and made it a captivating mystery. It also helps that she called and discussed the book with my book club! She was funny and helpful and informative! ( )
  sweetchuckie | Nov 26, 2013 |
This is first book byt Cantrell that I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was intriguing. Hannah Vogel is someone you can identify with and cheer for. I want to read more of her work. ( )
  bcrowl399 | May 15, 2013 |
I must admit that I was predisposed to like this book. I lived in Berlin for a little over a year in the early 70s, so I'm always interested in books set there. And of the many historical periods there are to choose from, my favorite has always been the forty years or so before I was born -- from just before World War I to just after World War II. So a book set in 1931 Berlin would get two stars before I even opened it. The other three were earned by Rebecca Cantrell's plotting, her recreation of the setting, and her ability to create complex characters.

Protagonist Hannah Vogel is a woman in her early 30s, and like many in her generation, unmarried because her fiance was killed in the Great War. She is the middle child in her family, between a stodgy, excessively conventional older sister and a younger brother who's a drag queen performing in one of Berlin's notorious clubs. Hannah is a crime reporter under an assumed man's name for one of the Berlin newspapers; and one morning, in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead at Alexanderplatz, she sees a photograph of her brother's body. There are reasons she can't identify him officially, so she begins trying to find out how he was killed. Then a small child shows up at her door with a birth certificate that says she is his mother and that her brother is his father. Caring for little Anton further complicates her life and investigation, as does her budding relationship with the father of a victim in one of the trials she covered. [b:A Trace of Smoke|5654142|A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel)|Rebecca Cantrell|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OB-BCLJoL._SL75_.jpg|5825655] reads somewhat like a spy thriller, with Hannah unsure of whom she can trust and learning of her brother's connection to a well-known Nazi. It's often unwise of historical fiction writers to involve too many actual historical figures, but in this case Cantrell has chosen wisely. Her historical figure is Ernst Rohm, the leader of Hitler's SA (Sturmabteilung) and someone whose life was lived at least partly in the shadows. In this way the book is like [a:Ariana Franklin|49612|Ariana Franklin|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1234751271p2/49612.jpg]'s [b:City of Shadows|28695|City of Golden Shadow (Otherland, #1)|Tad Williams|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1230504146s/28695.jpg|1570074], where the historical figure is a claimant to be Anastasia. Although both are set in Berlin in the 30s, and both are excellent books, they are very different. In [b:A Trace of Smoke|5654142|A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel)|Rebecca Cantrell|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OB-BCLJoL._SL75_.jpg|5825655], Hannah Vogel is still able to hope, against mounting evidence, that the German people will repudiate the Nazis. I'll be interested to see if Cantrell writes any more about Hannah Vogel, as there are so many ways her life can go from the end of the book. I'll definitely want to read whatever Cantrell's next book may be. ( )
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
I’ve had Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke on my shelves forever but every time my eye rested on the exquisite cover I thought “oh no not another book about bloody Nazis” and read something else (Nazis and gangsters being the two themes I feel like I am done with for this lifetime). I’m not sure what prompted me to actually pick it up now, probably that gorgeous cover that I’m not meant to judge by, but I’m glad I did because on top of it being very good the bloody Nazis are not the focal point of the story.

The book is set in Berlin at the tail end of the Weimar republic, just before Hitler takes power. Hannah Vogel is a 30-something journalist who spots a photo of her younger brother Ernst’s dead body pinned up in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead at the police station when she is checking in as part of her crime beat duties. She is devastated but she cannot tell anyone because she and Ernst have loaned their identity papers to Jewish friends who have tried to escape to America, and this crime will come to light if she identifies Ernst’s picture. So she sets out to investigate the death herself, risking her own safety in unravelling Ernst’s unorthodox life as an openly gay man who works as a cross-dressing night club singer and has a string of influential lovers, many of whom have reason to want to silence him.

For a few pages at the beginning I worried this book was going to be some kind of sensationalist thriller with scenes meant to shock rather than advance the story or explore some nuance of a character’s life but it soon started to take a more sensitive and mature route to its climax. The success of tackling such a potentially tawdry subject matter is due mostly to the development of Hannah as a character who was a wholly believable and engaging person. She had looked after her much younger brother for most of his life and was accepting of his homosexuality unlike her older sister who had virtually disowned Ernst. Still she couldn’t help wishing a different life for him that didn’t involve the ever-present threat of beatings by the brown shirts or imprisonment for what was a crime at the time and her attitude seemed very natural (though possibly a tad too modern?). Her willingness to go to any lengths to discover his killer, even take on a senior Nazi party official, is depicted believably and, as many crime writers have done before, Cantrell uses the fact of Hanna’s journalism to make her amateur sleuthing more believable than it would be if she were any other kind of normal citizen. She is helped and hindered in her quest by a variety of mostly intriguing and credible characters including a romantic interest (who helps) and the man Ernst had been living with at the time of his death (who doesn’t help). Her meeting with and growing attachment to 5 year-old Anton, who plays a key role in the story’s resolution, is quite wonderful to watch develop over the course of the novel.

The other standout feature of A Trace of Smoke for me is the historical setting which quickly absorbed me with its myriad of tiny, plausible details. Hannah’s needing to lodge her newspaper columns under a male pseudonym, the various indicators of the country’s slide towards legal persecution of Jewish people and other minorities, the woeful economic state lingering after the hyperinflation of the early 20′s are all drawn beautifully and help create the cloying atmosphere in which Hannah must untangle the threads of Ernst’s life.

Although it does take place in a thematically dark setting and has its harrowing passages A Trace of Smoke also has moments of joy and laughter and is all the better for being balanced like that. And even though one or two of those bloody Nazis do make an appearance the book is about much more than them. It’s about good people doing the right thing even (especially?) when to do so is dangerous and it’s about how, sometimes, the things we do for love can win out over the things that are done in the name of hate. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765320444, Hardcover)

Even though hardened crime reporter Hannah Vogel knows all too well how tough it is to survive in 1931 Berlin, she is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother’s body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer at a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble.

Hannah delves into the city’s dark underbelly to flush out his murderer, but the late night arrival of a five-year-old orphan on her doorstep complicates matters. The endearing Anton claims that Hannah is his mother… and that her dead brother Ernst is his father.

As her investigations into Ernst’s murder and Anton's parentage uncover political intrigue and sex scandals in the top ranks of the rising Nazi party, Hannah fears not only for her own life, but for that of a small boy who has come to call her “mother.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:37 -0400)

"Hardened crime reporter Hannah Vogel knows all too well how tough it is to survive in 1931 Berlin. Still, she is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother's body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead." "Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer in a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. While attempting to maintain her budding romance with a handsome upstanding banker, Hannah delves into the city's dark underbelly to flush out the murderer who stabbed her beloved brother in the heart." "The late-night arrival of a five-year-old orphan on her doorstep complicates matters. The endearing Anton claims that Hannah's dead brother is his father and that, impossibly, she is his mother."."Now Hannah must find not only her brother's murderer but Anton's real parents, a task that seems impossible since all traces of his past have vanished. As her investigations uncover political intrigue and sex scandals in the top ranks of the rising Nazi party, Hannah fears not only for her own life, but for that of a small boy who calls her "Mother.""--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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