A TRACE OF SMOKE
Prepare to be transported back to 1930s Berlin in this terrific debut. Cantrell's atmospheric mystery keeps you off-balance; there's a sense of dread as to what might be waiting around every corner. Vivid and dramatic descriptions allow readers to easily conjure up the imagery, as if you were watching a great old black-and-white film on the big screen. The star is crime reporter Hannah Vogel, who lives by her wits, but the one who will steal your heart is her "son," Anton.
Hannah knows what it takes to survive in Berlin, where the Nazi party is on the rise. Still, she's devastated when, making her weekly visit to the Hall of the Unnamed Dead for a story lead, she sees a photograph of her brother, Ernst.
Having loaned her identification papers to a friend, she can't go to the police, so she investigates on her own. A cross-dressing lounge singer, Ernst was a man of many secrets. One of the biggest is Anton, a 5-year-old with a birth certificate naming Ernst and Hannah as his parents. Events follow a twisted path of political intrigue and sexual scandal that leads to the top of the Nazi party. (FORGE, May, 304 pp., $24.95)