It's the first and darkest book in the crime novel series featuring inspector Gereon Rath. Kutscher paints an atmospheric picture of Berlin in the 1920s, a place filled with illegal dance clubs, cocaine and dead bodies.
1929 — that fateful year between the two world wars. Anything seems possible in the capital city of Berlin. The porn industry is booming and in illegal clubs people intoxicate themselves with absinthe and cocaine as if there were no tomorrow. People are living on the edge, celebrating a funeral ceremony for the Weimar Republic before the National Socialists usher in the darkest chapter of German history.
Dancing on a volcano
It's precisely in this atmosphere that police inspector Gereon Rath floats through in Berlin, where he has been sent by the Cologne murder commission. He's a politically apathetic war veteran who tries to repress his war trauma with drugs. After clocking off, he heads straight to the illegal night clubs that he is actually supposed to be going after.
The economic crisis will plunge the country into suffering. For Rath, Hitler is just a "strange bird with a Charlie Chaplin moustache, who looked just as devoid of humor as Wilhelm II."
Sex and drugs
In his first Rath crime novel, Kutscher already hints at the coming catastrophe. Still, Rath is no prophet of impending doom, but himself a prisoner of his time.
In order to impress Charlotte, a typist whom he loves, Rath secretly begins to investigate a murder — and walks straight into the devil's lair. Suddenly, he is held responsible for a dead body. Russian nobles, criminal organizations and tons of gold transports will later play a role.
Kutscher sketches out a panorama of these vibrant times that is true down to the last details. The local editor from the Rhine area could not have possibly suspected that his Rath crime novels would bring him so much success. There are now five more books in the series, but it all started with Babylon Berlin.
From page to screen
Babylon Berlin is now an award-winning TV series that is available around the world. Finished in 2017, the first season was a worldwide smash hit. Director Tom Tykwer brought Kutscher's meticulously detailed descriptions of 1920s Berlin to visual life with opulence and authenticity. He brings the viewer into a city that is a haze of cocaine and a political power box of Communists and class struggle.
In the meantime, Kutscher has said his Rath series will have a total of nine books. The story will end around November 9, 1938, the day of a pogrom against Jews, the Kristallnacht, also referred to as The Night of Broken Glass.
Rath will continue to investigate, but will be dismissed from the police force. He doesn't remain politically apathetic — that much has been revealed by the author.
Volker Kutscher: Babylon Berlin, Sandstone Press (German title: Der nasse Fisch, 2007). English translation: Niall Sellar.
Kutscher was born in Lindlar, North Rhine-Westphalia, and worked as an editor for local media in Cologne until his success as a crime author. The first book in the Rath series was released in 2007 and the sixth and most recent one in 2017.