The Second Son is the final installment to Rabb’s Berlin noir trilogy. Set in 1936, during the Olympics held in Berlin, Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner has just been ousted from his position because his mother was Jewish. His forced retirement comes at an opportune time for him to travel to Spain to search for his son Georg, a Pathe Gazette cameraman, who is filming the People’s Olympics in Barcelona.
When Hoffner learns that Pathe Gazette is in fact a front for British Intelligence and that Georg was in Spain following a list of names, Hoffner decides to travel to Spain with the aid of his gangster connections.
Once in Barcelona, the hunt for Georg becomes a quest of where the names lead to and how far Georg has traveled through Spain in search of a mysterious cache of weapons. In Barcelona, Hoffner meets Piera, a Catalan Communist, and his daughter Mila, a doctor, who helps the former cop in getting through checkpoints in both Nationalist and Republican territory.
In writing about Civil War Spain and its major players like the anarchist leader Buenaventura Durutti, Rabb’s research is exemplary. He plots Hoffner’s moves like pins along a map, marking each spot in Spain with historical facts about the war that will push many readers to learn more about this period.
Many of the relationships that Hoffner has held in the past are plagued with his sense of guilt especially with his older son Sascha, an angry young man who joined the Brown Shirts and later became a disciple of Joseph Goebbels. Rabb subtly weaves Hoffner’s indirect connections with the Nazis, leaving readers with the hope that the street smart detective will somehow escape the inevitable end to Germany’s half-Jews.
Other relations like his affair with Mila is deftly handled without the sentimental schmaltz that could weigh down the story. And Hoffner’s friendships with gangsters, may come across to some readers as a flaw in Hoffner’s character, yet these scenes add color and a touch of realism of how police officers used all their contacts to their advantage.
Questions of political intrigue are all handled with expertise. The story’s tempo builds and crescendos with a surprising denouement that will leave readers satisfied.
Fans of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and Olen Steinhauer will feel very much at home with Rabb’s The Second Son, and readers of the Spanish Civil War will nod their heads in approval of how well Rabb researched this important time in history when the world was at the cusp of a long and tragic war.