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A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel Novels) Hardcover – May 12, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Hannah Vogel Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in 1931 Berlin, Cantrell's scrupulously researched debut tolls a somber dirge for Weimar Germany in its last days. In the Hall of the Unnamed Dead, Hannah Vogel, a 32-year-old crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt, recognizes a photograph of a naked corpse on a riverbank as that of her beloved brother, Ernst, an unabashedly gay transvestite cabaret singer. In her search for Ernst's killer, Hannah uncovers his sexual connections reach from newly recruited young Nazis to the highest levels of the Nazi party. Hannah and Anton, a five-year-old waif who claims Ernst was his father, along with her tender lover, Boris, tread an ominous tightrope as Cantrell unveils the best and the worst of the German character, setting the humanity of decent Germans, Jews and gentiles alike, against the Nazis' raw savagery and mindless militarism. This unforgettable novel, which can be as painful to read as the history it foreshadows, builds to an appropriately bittersweet ending. (May)
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From Booklist

It’s 1931 in Berlin, and though the Weimar Republic has begun to crumble, the celebrated decadence of the era remains in full flower. Hannah Vogel is a crime reporter, on intimate terms with Berlin’s underbelly, but that doesn’t protect her from the shock of seeing her brother’s picture posted in the police department’s Hall of the Unnamed Dead. She’s reluctant to make a formal identification until she knows what happened to him; scandal may lurk behind his death, as Ernst was a cross-dressing cabaret star whose list of male lovers included at least one Nazi leader. There’s also the matter of the orphan girl who turns up on Hannah’s doorstep, claiming that Ernst is her father and Hannah her mother! Hannah follows Ernst’s trail where most commonsensical Germans know not to go—deep into the Nazi power structure, where alternative sexual behavior is pursued with gusto, despite the soon-to-be führer’s disapproval. Cantrell nails both the “life is a cabaret” atmosphere and the desperation floating inside the champagne bubbles, though her attempts to show us Hannah’s inner thoughts suggest first-novelist clumsiness. Still, a promising debut. --Bill Ott
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Product Details

  • Series: Hannah Vogel Novels (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books; First Edition edition (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765320444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765320445
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #709,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce L. Ginier on August 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
. . . this is my first book review on Amazon. Reading A Trace of Smoke is like settling into a comfortable chair, right smack in front of a massive open window with all the sights, sounds, and smells of a strange new world unfolding in front of you. Cantrell writes about a time and place that I knew little about, early 30's Berlin at the start of the Nazi rise to power. She weaves a tight plot of murder and suspense through the hard and unforgiving shadows of Berlin, and propels it forward with a cadre of historical and unique fictional characters that makes you flinch, gasp, and keep turning the page. It's a world I didn't know and story I wasn't expecting, but I want more of both. Impressive.
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Format: Paperback
This historical mystery takes place in 1931 Berlin where, as in the play and film CABARET, the decadence of the city's nightlife clashes with the rise of the Nazi party. Hannah Vogel is a 32-year old sketch artist who also writes as Peter Weill for a newspaper's crime reportage. On her daily visit to the police station and its display of photos of unidentified crime victims, she is shocked and devastated to see a picture of her brother Ernst, a gay cross-dressing singer in a nightclub.

To protect friends who are temporarily using Ernst's identity papers, she cannot immediately identify Ernst to the police. She decides to investigate herself and, along the way, she meets up with members of the demimonde, Nazi thugs and even the then-head of Hitler's SA, Ernst Rohm. She also opens up her lonely personal life to a handsome widower and a five-year-old orphan.

This is a quick read, with appealing characters and a fast-moving plot. It was refreshing to read a story whose plot had some twists and turns but was still easy to follow. The author has done her research and does an excellent job putting us in the time and place of the story. This is Cantrell's first novel and I look forward to her next.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rebecca Cantrell hits a homerun with her stunning debut. The plot is intricate and her characters engaging, especially young Anton. Hannah Vogel, Cantrell's main character is believable and charming, yet tough as nails. I won't spoil the plot, but the ending took me by surprise. I read it in three sittings. My only complaint is that the book ended!

I'll be buying Cantrell's next books. She's got a new fan for life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is fantastic book! It has lots of great detail and surprises. I could taste and smell the fear, the dirt, the hunger, the cold. I have never read a mystery where the protagonist is in such desperate situations and yet where tender relationships are also developed. I couldn't put it down for the second half of the book. This mystery does not disappoint! The author is truly brave and courageous!
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By A Customer on May 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In 1931 thirty two years old crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt Hannah Vogel visits Berlin's Hall of the Unnamed Dead. There on the wall is the picture of an unknown naked corpse whom she recognizes. The victim is her beloved gay brother Ernst, who could not harm a fly; he had no papers because he gave them to their Jewish friends to escape dangerous Germany for New York.

Outraged that someone would torture and kill her effeminate kind sibling, she knows she must remain silent re his identity or her "lost papers until their friends reach America. Still Hannah investigates using Ernst's sexual proclivity and his performing at the underground El Dorado cabaret as the starting points With the help of her dedicated lover and a young urchin claiming to be her nephew, Hannah makes her inquiries including the claim of the street kid that her obviously gay brother sired a child.

This is a powerful historical tale that looks deep inside the souls of the groups that make up the Weimer Republic at a time when Hitler is just starting to rise in power. The story line contrasts caring people from various religions vs. the brutal angry assaults of the Nazis. Not an easy read with no sugar coating, A TRACE OF SMOKE will have readers pondering whether this could happen in modern day America.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's been a long time since I was unable to put a book down even for a second until I finished it. (And I read hundreds of books every year!)

Honestly, I had not been expecting this much - I love reading mysteries set in different countries around the world, as well as different historical periods, and, since I'll be traveling to Germany this summer, in the process of loading my Kindle with books for the trip, I googled mysteries set in Germany. Rebecca Cantrell's series was listed among them, so I bought the first book. Yesterday, at lunch, to take a break from work, I decided to just take a peek at the first page to see if the book would be any good and if I should get an more in the series. Well, 59 minutes later, I was back at my desk and could not wait to get back to it. As soon as work was over, I headed back home with my book... only to find that the power had gone out. Not to worry, I had plenty of candles and a booklight! I figured I'd read another chapter or two and get on with my evening. Next thing I knew, I had finished the book, and realized that 1) It was 3am and I really should get to bed 2) I hadn't had dinner or done pretty much anything else all night and 3) I must immediately get the rest of the books in the series.

Cantrell draws you in as much with the story, as with her writing - it's atmospheric, meticulously researched with highly developed complex characters. I highly recommend this book for lovers of mystery, historical fiction, and just good books. (Meanwhile, I'm excited to read the next few - I'm not sure if any of them will actually make it with me on my trip to Germany - I'll probably finish them before then!)
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