For a number of years, husband-and-wife authors Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have topped the charts with each new release, Jonathan with his psychological thrillers featuring child therapist Alex Delaware, and Faye with her police procedurals featuring borderline agnostic policeman Peter Decker and his Orthodox Jewish wife, Rina Lazarus. Faye Kellerman has taken a markedly different tack with her latest thriller, Straight Into Darkness (Warner, $25.95, 416 pages, ISBN 0446530409). Set in Munich in the days just before Hitler came into power, Straight Into Darkness is a dark and complicated tale of a series of strangling murders in an otherwise bucolic city park. The victims are young women, sometimes with evidence of recent sexual activity. Assigned to the case is policeman Axel Berg, a family man and WWI veteran with a marked distrust of the uneasy political situation in Germany. Hitler is staging rallies and garnering support for his platform by taunting the Munich police about their inability to catch the serial killer at large in the city. Hitler, of course, blames the Jews, the Gypsies and the homosexuals, and in doing so, manages to force the police department into detaining an innocent Jewish banker. When the banker is lynched en route to jail, the city erupts in violence, further fueled by another murder of a young girl, this one only a child. It is exactly the pandemonium needed by Hitler to foment insurrection and to begin to implement his master plan for the next decade. Faye Kellerman's father was, as a young man, a U.S. Army soldier in Germany; because of his fluency in Yiddish, he had the opportunity to speak with concentration camp survivors. Drawing from the stories he shared with her, usually under duress, Kellerman has fashioned a gripping and exceptionally believable story of a city and a country (and indeed, a world) on the brink of disaster at the hands of madmen. Straight Into Darkness is a crystal-clear example of a writer at the top of her game, easily one of the most intense and absorbing mysteries of the year.

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