Diary of a Dead Man on Leave
Soho Crime, April 2019
Josef Hoffman isn’t his real name. He’s a German who has recently returned to his native country, to the town of Hamm. It’s April, 1938. Adolf Hitler is in power.
Josef has a mission. He works for the International Liaison Section of the Communist International and with a list of members of the Comintern his orders are to locate the men on his list and confirm they are still members of the Party. The Soviet Union’s leaders, sure that another war in Europe is imminent, want to find out whether there are enough Communists in Germany to form an underground group willing to undermine and disrupt the Third Reich.
Josef manages to get a room in a boarding house near the railway yards, where he has landed a job. The boarding house is run by Frau Anna Gersdorff, her father Erich who is blind and bedridden, and Walter her eleven year old son. There are also three other lodgers staying at the boarding house, Askel Ruchay, Jakob Barufka and Rolf Gerritzen.
Josef knows he shouldn’t get too friendly with the people around him. He is there to observe and report, and track down the men on his list. But he finds himself drawn to Anna and her son Walter, especially when he discovers Walter, an intelligent boy, is being bullied at school and not just by other children. A teacher is determined Walter is too clever by far and makes it his mission to degrade and diminish him at every turn. Walter’s only friend is Marco a younger black boy, the son of Verena who works as the cook at the boarding house and this does not sit well with the current regime.
Every six weeks Josef is instructed to meet with a colleague to report his progress. He has decided to keep a journal detailing his day to day efforts to track down these men…and it is through his journaling he reveals the characters of the lodgers, as well as the men he works with at the Railway Yard. We also see his growing attachment to the Gersdorff family.
As the days unfold, Josef slowly becomes ever more entangled with the lives of the people in the boarding house. HIs progress in finding his Communist brothers is slow. His need to be careful approaching these men intensifies, fearful at any moment he will be reported to the authorities or arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. Tension is rising throughout the country as Hitler and his Third Reich grow more brutal and violent.
I found this book engrossing. Written in journal form makes for an easy read, but throughout, the author is adept at keeping the stakes high.
Check this one out…and find out what becomes of Josef and the people he has grown to love.
Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.