A TRACE OF SMOKE is set in Berlin in 1931 and is the story of how a (fictional) lady journalist named Hannah Vogel defies Hitler’s best friend Ernst Roehm.
What is so wonderful about this novel are the many details of life in 1930s Berlin, like this one of a seedy nightclub called the “El Dorado”:
A dozen round tables ringed the oak dance floor. Each was set in a shallow alcove painted with a stylized scene from a Chinese opium den. Between each table hung a red curtain or a large tarnished brass gong. Every so often someone rang a got with a bottle of Champagne, and the band stopped playing and started a different song.
Despite this wonderful writing, I kept bumping into the mystery of exactly why author Rebecca Cantrell had chosen to set this story in 1931, at a time when the Nazis had LESS than 20% of the popular vote, then proceeded to fill her novel with details of Nazi menace which implied that the Nazis held Berlin in a stranglehold. The author goes so far as to claim (in her Author Note) that Berlin was LOST to the Nazis in 1931!
But none of this makes sense. Hitler did NOT become Chancellor until 30 January 1933, and so I would say that it was in 1933 that Berlin was lost to the Nazis.
In 1931, by contrast, the Nazis had to continue to fight rumors that they were pagans and thugs because they needed the Catholic vote. In 1931, they had to do everything in their power to make themselves appear civilized. The Nazi menace that suffuses this novel is simply anachronistic.
Most readers are probably not going to mind this, but as someone who has done a lot of research in this area myself, I just couldn’t understand how an author who can do so much detailed research on brands of stockings and cigarettes to illuminate the daily life of Berliners could make such an elementary mistake. Three stars.