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A Trace of Smoke

(Hannah Vogel #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,240 ratings  ·  370 reviews
Even though hardened crime reporter Hannah Vogel knows all too well how tough it is to survive in 1931 Berlin, she is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother's body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer at a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. ...more
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published May 12th 2009 by Forge Books
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  2,240 ratings  ·  370 reviews

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Judith Starkston
Berlin, 1931, the year Germany was lost to the Nazis. Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter, wanders into the Hall of the Unnamed Dead to examine the police reports from which she gathers her stories each week. Instead she sees her brother’s photograph on the wall, his long hair and beautiful features wet from being dragged out of the Spree River, an anonymous floater. But Hannah’s identity papers, and with them her ability to talk to the police, are on their way to America in the hands of her Jewish f ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Meandering, clumsy, confusing, convoluted, contrived. I can't believe I finished.

The story of Hannah, a young German girl, in the months leading up to WW2. Her brother's dead. He had several important lovers. Hannah tries to track down what happened, why and when, all the while skirting the authorities who have the power to stop and question anyone, including German (Aryan) citizens. She can't go to the police because two of her friends have borrowed her identification papers to travel to the US
Rob Kitchin
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Somewhat surprisingly I struggled through A Trace of Smoke. I’ve been thinking about why as it has many of the ingredients that I normally like - good historical context and sense of place, an interesting plot, and a good mix of distinctive characters. After a bit of reflection, I think there are four reasons. First, I found the writing a little flat and pedestrian. Second, the dialogue really didn’t work for me – it’s too formal and stilted. There are very little, if any, colloquialisms, slang, ...more
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
If you want to get a feel for pre World War II Germany, this is your book. A Trace of Smoke takes place in 1931 Berlin, the Nazi's are just starting to make their presence known and the people of Berlin are still recovering from the shortages and lose of the first war. Great writing and a wonderful mystery taking you from the burlesque houses of Berlin, to the lakes and posh clubs of the rich, from the anti-Semitism of Nazi rule to the compassion that still exited in those not afraid to stand up ...more
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
In 1931 Berlin, crime reporter Hannah Vogel discovers her brother's photograph in the police station's Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Her brother, a homosexual, cross-dressing lounge singer, had a number of shady connections and numerous liasons with powerful and dangerous men, and when Hannah sets off to find his killer, she runs afoul of one of the scariest real-life figures of the days before Hitler's rise to power.
This is a great historical mystery. I especially liked the contrasts between the s
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-mystery
A good read and a gripping mystery/suspense tale, this is also a peek at life in Berlin as the Nazi's begin their rise. It made me wonder about the cult of personality and not just Hitler, but others in his circle o' thugs. At some point, Hannah, the main character and narrator, wonders what would happen without those who surround Hitler--Rohm, Goebbels, etc. Would he just be a short, shrieking man with a funny mustache? ...more
Rachel Brady
Mar 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely story about a woman's search for the truth in pre-Nazi Berlin, when everything is uncertain--from the political climate to when protagonist Hannah Vogel will eat her next meal. Cantrell has set a compelling mystery in the midst of a city and time most of us can't imagine, yet she's done so in a way that made me feel I was there. I enjoyed Hannah on many levels: her career as a newspaper reporter writing under a male pseudonym, her emotional recovery following a challenging child ...more
Oct 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, fiction, crime
One of many character flaws is a deep enjoyment of detective stories set in the weimar republic and third reich, I blame watching raiders of the lost ark at an impressionable age. I am therefore pretty non discriminating and as long as you hit the period detail, brave person in a sea of lunacy and creepy nazis I am there. At the start I really liked the twist of having the hero be a woman, especially as other authors in the genre are pretty slapdash with their female characters.

Reading this boo
Cold War Conversations Podcast
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: germany, berlin, fiction
Set in Berlin in 1931 the book describes a period not seen in many novels, the era between the massive inflationary years and pre the Nazis coming to absolute power.

You also rarely find such a strong female character as Hannah Vogel. A 30 year old crime reporter who has to write under a male pseudonym for her work to be taken seriously.

The story opens with her weekly visit to Police Headquarters where the Hall of the Unnamed Dead carries on its walls photos of unidentified bodies. Much to her ho
Nov 23, 2009 rated it liked it
I had to add a new shelf just for this book: "noir". And when I think about it, there doesn't seem to be a setting as perfect for a noir mystery than Berlin in the 1930's. It doesn't even need any embellishment by the author to create the atmosphere of unreality, violence and decay. Or as the dictionary says: "a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings". Well, I don't know that they come much bleaker than Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party. Even read ...more
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Hannah Vogel is a single 32-year-old woman in a Germany where Nazi-ism is becoming rampant. A crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt, she considers herself fairly tough and unshakeable. But when, on a regular visit to the police station she sees a photo of her younger brother Ernst in the photos of the unnamed dead, the unidentified bodies discovered over the past week, she is (understandably) upset.

Hannah's friend Fritz Waldheim is the policeman on duty, though, so she tries not to show it.
Bob Mustin
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
During the two years of my MLA studies, I grew into a fascination with the emergence of Germany’s Third Reich – how it happened and why. Since, I’ve looked, beyond historical texts, to fiction relating to the years between the World Wars in Germany, and to the more modern novels of post-WWII.

Cantrell’s book is a venture into a genre blending of mystery and historical fiction – a blend I find near irresistible. In a word, the author has taken up where CABARET left off. Historically, we see a Germ
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: b-n-serial-reads
This was the Barnes and Noble serial read for the month of May.

This was one of those books that just kept getting better the further into it I got. I actually did not like Hannah at the beginning of the story. I feel like she was a product of all the horrible things that had happened in her life. It wasn't until she let two new people into her life that all the walls came down and I really got to see the true Hannah. She turned into a total badass by the end, and I am living for it. She's playin
Suzanne Adair
Jul 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Few novels that I pick up hold my attention beyond the first several chapters. What a pleasure to read A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell. Ms. Cantrell sets her historical suspense/mystery in Berlin on the eve of Germany's descent into control by the Nazis. Journalist Hannah Vogel discovers that her brother, Ernst, has been murdered. Circumstances prevent her seeking the help of law enforcement officials. She becomes the sleuth to uncover the identity of her brother's killer, endangering her o ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this book which I read as a NOOK Serial over the course of May. Courageous Hanna Vogel, crime reporter/journalist in Berlin right at the start of a brewing WW, is way out of her depth at solving the mystery of her brother’s death. Moving In circles most other people don’t want to know about she persists at great danger and the cost of - perhaps - a great love. I want to know how the story goes on as this was only the beginning ....
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
An evocative and dark novel about the end of Weimar Berlin. Rebecca Cantrell's A Trace of Smoke follows Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter as she tries to unravel the mystery of her brother's death. Cantrell gives us a tour of the more flamboyant and seedy alleys of 1931 Berlin which includes cabarets, cocaine, prostitutes and homosexuals. Aside from the mystery of her cross-dressing brother's death, the story is haunted by a mounting social and political fear as the Nazis continue their ascent to p ...more
Deborah Ledford
Such an amazing read. Rebecca Cantrell takes us on a suspenseful ride of 1931 Berlin brimming with intrigue, suspicion and murder. This capable writer presents visuals and details so rich you can feel the atmosphere and varied cultures fraught with trepidation as to what Germany and its people will become.

Hannah Vogel, Anton, Boris and especially Ernst are captivating characters, memorable and lasting. I read every word of this debut novel as I didn't want to rush or miss a single detail.

Nov 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a well-written historical novel that had me hooked from the first chapter. The novel boasts strong character development along with a fast paced and suspenseful storyline. It presents a look into the personal life of prominent Nazi soldiers and Nazi Germany that is not often depicted. Though this novel is fiction, it weaves enough nonfiction facts into the story, and it is very easy for the reader to forget it is fiction and take what is being read as fact. I highly recommend this to an ...more
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
Imagine what one would include when writing a murder mystery set in Wiemar Germany right before the Nazis rise to power, and Cantrell's got it. Sadist homosexual Nazis--check. Sadist heterosexual military men--check. Murdered cross-dressing MacGuffin--check. Prostitutes--check. Plucky child in danger--check. Heroine who wants romantic love and plucky child--check. Cast of supporting resourceful Jewish characters who ably help the protagonist without imagining their heavily foreshadowed impending ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks, fiction, mysteries
A thoroughly enjoyable mystery set in 1931 Germany. As Hitler gains power, a Berlin crime reporter learns that her homosexual, cross-dressing younger brother has been murdered, and there are several legitimate suspects, including Hitler's right-hand man. It's filled with evocative narrative and an excellent sense of time and place. In less competent hands, some of the subject matter could go way too far down Sordid Lane, but Cantrell does a good job of exploring this particular underbelly withou ...more
Chris Wolak
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading this novel and was sorry to see it come to an end. It had been on my radar for sometime and I moved it to the top of my reading list when I found out Rebecca Cantrell was coming to the area for a book signing. I'm now looking forward to reading the second Hannah Vogel novel, A Night of Long Knives, which was just released in June.

Set in 1931 Berlin A Trace of Smoke is a skillfully written mystery/thriller with a literary sensibility. I was hooked on the first page. This richly de
Laura Edwards
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I settled in to read "A Trace of Smoke" with high hopes. Good premise, interesting setting, evocative and taut atmosphere. But by the time I finished Chapter 7, however, it was clear Ms. Cantrell's writing was not pulling me into the story as I had hoped. Persevere until the end? I decided "yes" and not long after little Anton was introduced into the story, capturing my heart immediately and keeping me invested in the story when I might not have been otherwise.

The best parts of the book were th
David Lowther
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Trace of Smoke is an exceptional noir thriller set in Berlin on the cusp of the accession of the Nazis coming to power in the early 1930s.

Hannah Vogel is an very resourceful journalist who puts herself in harm's way while trying rot find out who murdered her younger brother who is gay.

It's a very dark tale and visiting dignitaries include the odious Ernst Röhm, leader of the brutal and dangerous brownshirts.

The great strength of the novel is the sense of time and place of Germany's capital a
Sep 23, 2018 added it
I was looking forward to reading this, so it's a shame that it's a DNF for me. Its setting in Weimar Germany is ripe for boundary-breaking and noirish intrigue, but A Trace of Smoke just ends up feeling convoluted and gloomy.

I think there's just too much going on -- protagonist Hannah is trying to solve her brother's murder, while also covering a rape case as a crime reporter; she's in an on-again/off-again romance, and is grappling with (view spoiler). It
Emmy Bennett
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed reading this historical mystery. It was based off actual events in history, with a fictional story weaved in. It gives the reader a taste of what it was like living in Berlin in the 1930's. Looking forward to book 2. The ending leaves you satisfied, but you want more.
What is in store for Hannah and Anton in book 2?
Paul Groves
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
While this book would not be a choice for me I won it in a competition and thought I would give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a good insight into pre WW2 Germany with the added twist of a murder mystery. Well worth a read
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: berlin-noir
In the course of my 3-year-old fascination with the so-called "Nazi noir" genre of recent fiction, set in interwar Berlin, until now I had yet to come across a consistent protagonist who was either Jewish or female. (And I've read, I believe, 16 or so books that fit this description) Even Richard Zimler's outstanding "The Seventh Gate", set in the waning years of the Weimar Republic onward, is driven forward by Sophie, a lovely girl who in spite of her love for Judaism and a Jewish man, is still ...more
Jun 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I must admit that I was predisposed to like this book. I lived in Berlin for a little over a year in the early 70s, so I'm always interested in books set there. And of the many historical periods there are to choose from, my favorite has always been the forty years or so before I was born -- from just before World War I to just after World War II. So a book set in 1931 Berlin would get two stars before I even opened it. The other three were earned by Rebecca Cantrell's plotting, her recreation o ...more
Apr 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crimepieces
Historical crime fiction can be a problematic area for me as the quality varies widely. It’s a genre that has expanded considerably over the last decade or so but I like to pick and choose my writers based on recommendations and favourable reviews. One writer I particularly enjoy is Philip Kerr, whose books featuring the inimitable Bernie Gunther evoke the tensions and mutual suspicions endemic in Nazi Germany.

In A Trace of Smoke, Rebecca Cantrell uses a slightly earlier period of 1931 Berlin as
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Normally I don’t care for books that are part of series, partly because it’s a rare series that hooks me enough to encourage further reading (I can only think of two: Hunger Games and Gallagher Girls) and I don’t enjoy books that can’t stand on their own. Trace of Smoke is a rare exception. I’m not sure if it was originally envisioned as a series or merely panned out that way. Although the end lends to follow-on potential it is a complete book in its own right and though I’d be interested to rea ...more
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A few years ago Rebecca Cantrell quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Hawaii to write a novel because, at seven, she decided that she would be a writer. Now she writes the award-winning Hannah Vogel mystery series set in Berlin in the 1930s. “A Trace of Smoke,” "A Night of Long Knives," "A Game of Lies," and "A City of Broken Glass." She also co-writes the Order of Sanguines series with Jame ...more

Other books in the series

Hannah Vogel (4 books)
  • A Night of Long Knives (Hannah Vogel, #2)
  • A Game of Lies (Hannah Vogel, #3)
  • A City of Broken Glass (Hannah Vogel, #4)

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