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by Peter Steiner
Severn House, August 2019
194 pages
ISBN: 0727889435

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The son of Austrian refugees from Nazi Germany, Peter Steiner, who was born in the United States in 1940, unsurprisingly was aware of the rise of Hitler and alert to the prospects for something similar repeating in the present moment. He addresses the question in under 200 pages in THE GOOD COP, set in Munich from immediately after the end of World War I until immediately after the end of WWII, with most attention given to the 1920's leading to Hitler's accession to power in 1933.

Given the time frame and the slenderness of the book, this account is spare, even terse. It traces the fortunes of a newspaper artist (Maximilian), a journalist, (Sophie), and the titular character, Willi Geismeier, who is in fact a good cop, but one with strong survival instincts. Maxmillian and Sophie both first worked for a newspaper that was damaged when someone tossed a grenade inside, an attack that seriously wounded Sophie and killed two other employees. Maximilian was not on the premises, having been canned the previous day as the (fictional) Neue Deutsche Bild moved to the right. They both went to work for a (non-fictional) paper, the Munich POST, a journal that fought Hitler vigorously until 1933 when Hitler closed it down permanently, going so far as to melt down the presses and eradicate its street address. His favourite term for the POST? Giftküche, literally "poison kitchen," a term that pretty much corresponds to a current favourite, "fake news."

Another element favouring Hitler's success was the gradual corruption of the justice system. Willi Geismeier is in fact a good cop. He defines his role as he should - he is committed to solving crime and bringing criminals to justice. But he is operating in a climate in which both police and courts are being thoroughly politicised. Willi gets the message that he must cooperate or face the consequences but he opts for staying as unobserved as possible and gathering evidence that he hopes one day to use.

Ultimately the courts and the cops lent their support to the emergent Nazi party. (It's a development that Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series treats in much greater detail.) A GOOD COP does not pretend to be as ambitious as that remarkable set of books, of course, though it may be intended as the first in series focussed on Geismeier. Instead it is a kind of beginner's guide to the politics of Germany in the 1920s, one that makes the point that what was unfolding was indeed a crime of catastrophic proportions. It is focussed and direct but while reading it I kept recalling that Steiner is himself an artist, a cartoonist for the NEW YORKER and wondering if it would not have worked better as a graphic novel.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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