I always feel a little nervous when I read a book that claims to be a “literary thriller”. But in the case of The Informer, literary means beautifully written, and thriller does mean tense and exciting along with plenty of action. Author Craig Nova has succeeded on a number of levels; firstly you can smell the cigars, sausage and perfumes of Weimar Berlin as he brilliantly captures the taut atmosphere of fear and decay in the city. Secondly he has created in Gaelle and Armina two strong contrasting female characters that readers will care about, and will turn the pages to find out their fate. The story is also full of interesting male characters: Felix, Bruno Hauptmann, Armina’s boss the devious Ritter, her boyfriend the botanist Rainier, Mani Carlson and Karl. Thirdly you get a love story in which a man and a woman communicate with shared little gifts in stark contrast to the brutality all around them. All these lives are cleverly interwoven to produce a complex story, which has a warning for us today.
As someone artfully conditioned by Eric Ambler and Philip Kerr and Alan Furst, I happen to be well-disposed toward novels dealing with the secret policeman’s Europe of the 1930s. But they have to get it right. It is not simply a matter of assembling a bunch of old Baedekers and street maps and railway schedules, or of cribbing nonfiction and academic research dealing with the period: art is required. An alternative reality that feels real must be brought into being. Craig Nova is one of those lucky writers gifted with the artistry necessary to pull this off. In “The Informer,” he gets it right.
Katherine Powers reviews The Infomer in The Boston Globe. Powers describes the Berlin of 1919 to 1933 as “louche and violent, a world of hectic gaiety, anomie, and shabby expedience…an arena for the investigations and bleak soul-searchings of good-guy detectives.” Among the likes of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and Jonathan Rabb’s Nikolai Hoffner, she adds Armina Treffen of Craig Nova’s The Informer. She says of The Informer:
The novel has plenty of suspense, an excellent plot, convincing characters, and a couple of knockout revelations, but it is its ambience that makes it the best contribution to fictional Weimar I’ve come across in a long time.