BERLIN. JANUARY 1941. Evil cannot bring any good…
After Germany’s invasion of Poland, the world is holding its breath and hoping for peace. At home, the Nazi Party’s hold on power is absolute.
One freezing night, an SS doctor and his wife return from an evening mingling with their fellow Nazis at the concert hall. By the time the sun rises, the doctor will be lying lifeless in a pool of blood.
Was it murder or suicide? Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is told that under no circumstances should he investigate. The doctor’s widow, however, is convinced her husband was the target of a hit. But why would anyone murder an apparently obscure doctor? Compelled to dig deeper, Schenke learns of the mysterious death of a child. The cases seem unconnected, but soon chilling links begin to emerge that point to a terrifying secret.
Even in times of war, under a ruthless regime, there are places in hell no man should ever enter. And Schenke fears he may not return alive . . .
My thanks to Sophie and Jess of Ransom PR for the tour invite and for the extract. Dead of Night is the second in the Berlin Wartime thriller series (the first being Blackout). It’s published by Headline on 2 February 2023 and available in ebook, audio and hardback formats with paperback to follow.
Berlin, 28 January 1940
The choir and orchestra reached the end of the reprise of ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi’, and with a final sweep of his baton the conductor brought the performance to an end, bowing his head as if in exhaustion. At once the audience at the Philharmonie let out a cheer and applause thundered through the hall. As the conductor turned, some of the audience rose to offer a standing ovation and the rest began to follow.
Dr Manfred Schmesler sighed as he stood stiffly. Like those around him, he was wearing his overcoat and gloves but no hat, so that he might hear the music more easily despite the cold. Because of the shortage of coal in the city, the heating had not been turned on, and even after an hour and a half of the audience crowding into the hall, the air was frigid. Schmesler wondered how the performers had been able to carry on in such conditions. Perhaps the need to concentrate had distracted them from the icy atmosphere.
He felt a light pressure on his arm and turned to his wife, Brigitte. She said something inaudible, then cleared her throat and spoke loudly as he dipped his ear towards her. ‘I said, they did wonderfully.’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Under the circumstances.’ The applause continued as Wilhelm Furtwängler gestured to his orchestra to take a bow, and then the choir. The clapping subsided and there was the usual bustle as the crowd edged towards the aisles and made for the exits. Schmesler guided his wife out, along with the couple who had accompanied them to the performance, Hans Eberman, a lawyer, and his wife, Eva. The Schmeslers had met the Ebermans at a party a few months earlier, and had shared a number of social events since then. Eberman caught his eye and commented just loudly enough to be heard, ‘How fortunate that the tickets were free.’
Schmirler knew his companion well enough to sense the irony, and smiled back briefly. Since the Nazi Party had taken power, they had driven a host of musicians and composers into exile and limited the repertoire of those that remained to mainly German music, which meant the capital’s concerts were becoming repetitive. At least they had been spared an evening of Wagner, thought Schmesler.
As the crowd edged forward, people fumbled for scarves and mufflers and put on their hats in preparation for the cold out in the street. Berlin was in the grip of the bitterest winter in living memory: the canals and the River Spree were frozen over, and snow covered the city. And the nation was at war again. Schmesler was old enough to have served in the previous conflict, and his memory was scarred by the terrible suffering he had witnessed on the Western Front. The war to end all wars, they had called it, and yet scarcely twenty years later, war had returned to Germany. And with it had come food rationing and the nightly blackout that smothered Berlin with darkness once the sun set.
The increasing scarcity of coal meant that heating was a luxury for the few, mostly senior members of the Nazi Party or their cronies. Although Schmesler was a member, he had joined as part of the wave of professionals who had seen the way things were going and realised that membership would become the sine qua non of any successful career, as well as serving a more private purpose. And so it had proved for doctors and for lawyers like his new friend Eberman. Those who had joined the party in the days of the Weimar Republic looked down on the newcomers with contempt for their new-found enthusiasm for the cause. More importantly, they were not inclined to share their supply of coal.
It was strange, Schmesler reflected, that a resource once so commonplace was now a rare and valuable commodity. Even the coal that did turn up in the capital tended to be the degassed variety, lacking the greasy sheen of the better-quality type that generated more heat. He and Brigitte were obliged to burn wood in the stoves of their house in Pankow to stay warm and heat enough water to wash with. The boiler that supplied the building was only fired up at weekends and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, when coal supplies allowed. Even wood was becoming scarce, and Schmesler prayed for the prolonged spell of freezing weather to end.
As they approached the exit into the foyer, he heard a harsh voice cut through the hubbub of conversation. ‘Winter Aid! Winter Aid collection!’ He saw four men in greatcoats with the brown caps of the party paramilitaries. One had raised a tin and rattled it loudly before he repeated his cry.
‘Damn them,’ Eberman muttered. ‘Don’t they fleece us enough already with their bloody collections?’
Schmesler reached into his coat pocket and took out a handful of badges. Poking through them, he found the special Winter Aid badges he had earned through previous donations. He handed one to Eberman before fixing his own to his lapel, where it would be seen. His companion smiled at the thought of getting one over on the party’s henchmen clustered about the exits, where they intimidated those passing into handing over money for the cause. A visitor to Berlin might think this was charity, whereas the inhabitants recognised it for what it was – one step short of being mugged.
A man blocked the way of the group ahead of Schmesler and his lips curled in amusement. ‘Spare some change to help those in need, friend.’ There was no trace of a polite request, merely an instruction, and the concert-leavers without donor badges paid up and hurried away. An SA man stepped in front of Schmesler and held up his tin. ‘Winter Aid.’ Schmesler angled his shoulder slightly to display the badge, and the SA man waved the two couples past before confronting those behind them. Schmesler took his wife’s arm and increased their pace as they passed through the foyer and out of the revolving door onto the pavement. At once the freezing night air bit at their exposed skin, and they hunched their heads into their collars and breathed swirls of steam.
Eberman made to return his badge, but Schmesler shook his head. ‘Keep it. Who knows how many more SA parties are on the streets tonight.’ ‘Thanks.’ Despite the blackout, there was enough illumination from the narrow beams of masked car headlights and the loom of mounds of snow for them to see their way, and Schmesler led them along the street towards the U-Bahn station. Once he was clear of the crowd emerging from the theatre, he slowed so that the other couple could fall into step beside him and Brigitte. The trampled snow had compacted into ice, and she clung to his arm to avoid slipping. The conditions discouraged any further conversation until they reached the steps to the station, where they would part company; Schmesler and his wife catching a train to Pankow while the Ebermans walked the remaining distance to their apartment on the next street.
‘Shall we go to the Richard Strauss event next Friday?’ asked Eva.
Her husband sniffed. ‘Not that there’s much of a choice these days.’
She swatted his shoulder. ‘Strauss may not be the kind of first-class composer you are so fond of, but at least he’s a first-rate second-class composer.’
All four laughed knowingly before Eberman continued, ‘It seems that no piece of German music should be so sophisticated that it could not be belted out at a Nazi Party rally, eh?’
‘Come now,’ said Schmesler. ‘It’s music all the same, and it’s a pleasant distraction from the war. It’ll be good for us.’ ‘I suppose . . .’ ‘Then it’s settled. And it’s your turn to get the tickets, my friend.’ Schmesler glanced towards the station entrance at the sound of an approaching train. ‘We have to go.’ He turned back to his companion. ‘Are we still meeting for lunch next Monday? About that matter you wanted to discuss?’ Eberman shook his head. ‘It’s not important any more. Another time perhaps.’
Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author with several million copies of his books sold worldwide. After a childhood spent travelling the world, he pursued his great love of history as a teacher, before becoming a full-time writer. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in UNDER THE EAGLE and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series, including CENTURION, INVICTUS and DAY OF THE CAESARS. Many of the series have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
Simon Scarrow is also the author of a quartet of novels about the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, YOUNG BLOODS, THE GENERALS, FIRE AND SWORD and THE FIELDS OF DEATH; a novel about the 1565 Siege of Malta, SWORD & SCIMITAR; HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War; and PLAYING WITH DEATH, a contemporary thriller written with Lee Francis. He also wrote the novels ARENA and INVADER with T. J. Andrews. His thriller, BLACKOUT set in WW2 Berlin and first published in 2021 was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick.