The cover blurbs on Chris Petit’s “The Butchers of Berlin, published in 2016, include “darkly atmospheric” and “A gripping police procedural – one so shrouded in guilt, suspense and outright dread it almost approaches horror”. Maybe an air raid going on in the background makes people being flayed alive and eaten by pigs “darkly atmospheric”, but I think in order to approach horror it has to do a U-turn and backtrack.
As Petit writes it, there were some normal people in Berlin in the waning days of World War II, but not very many. There is an elderly Jew who kills a police informer and commits suicide, a young Jewish woman who was a witness and ran away, a young German from the financial crimes division of the police who is drafted to look into the homicide, a Gestapo internal affairs investigator who becomes involved, the young policeman’s English mother, and a German woman who employed the young Jewish woman as a seamstress. That’s almost everybody who isn’t a depraved sadist. Considering the many characters who are depraved sadists, the young policeman and his Gestapo mentor, who are tasked with finding the person responsible for a series of flayed corpses, are spoiled for choice.
Bottom line – this is a surrealistic take on a police investigation with super-size helpings of blood and gore.