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A Trace of Smoke.

In her first-person narrative Rebecca Cantrell depicts in dramatic fashion the life of Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter in Weimar Germany who writes under the alias of Peter Weill. Hannah is a socialist and despises the Nazis. Her gay brother Ernst is a transvestite who has been murdered at the novel's start, setting up the whodunit aspect of the story. Hitler's gay protege, Ernst Rohm, who historically was the leader of the Brownshirts, figures prominently in the book as the former lover of Hannah's brother and the father of a young boy, Anton. We also learn that Hannah and her brother have loaned their identity papers to their friends Sarah and her son Tobias, both Jews escaping to America. Before his death, Ernst had been kept by a lawyer named Rudolph von Reiche and had an affair with a Nazi named Wilhelm Lehmann. Hannah's own love interest is Boris Krause, a handsome banker. The gay characters definitely get short shrift in this novel, either murdered or, in Rohm's case, trying to rape Hannah, who has dressed up as a boy in order to attend an all-male Nazi party. Rudolph von Reiche is evil, Wilhelm is a Nazi boy wunderkind with a patriarchal monster of a dad, and Ernst is a cross-dresser with a hankering for all things red, who sings at the El Dorado, a gay club. A strength of the novel is Cantrell's historical knowledge and imagination. She has designed a plot and an atmosphere that are well matched to the noir tones of the period. A weakness is that the author sometimes tries to include too much--too many characters, too many moments of high pathos and sentimentality. But the novel is sufficiently gripping to be an enjoyable reading experience.

by Rebecca Cantrell

Forge Books. 300 pages, $24.95
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Author:Holland, Walter
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2010
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