Decades ago, in my teen years, I traveled to the Rhineland area and Bavaria for three weeks. Germany will always bring back memories of peppermint tea, reckless driving, my first visit to a farm of any kind (pigs, cherries, apples and bees), my first taste of unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk that sent me running to the bathroom, a visit to a German movie theater for Krieg der Sterne (the German dubbed version of Star Wars), and lots of drunk teenagers in Munich (that would be us Americans behaving badly).
But when I think of Germany in terms of crime fiction I think of two things immediately - spies and Nazis. Sorry, Germany, but you just can't escape your past as far as thriller fiction goes. Travel with me into the cobweb enshrouded section of the Pretty Sinister Books' vault while I drag out a few dusty and forgotten tomes that capture Germany in fictionalized terms from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Dennis Wheatley loved to write about Nazis and Satanism. His genre blending thrillers incorporated spybashers and ghostbusters. The books could convince you that Adolf Hitler had no part in the nefarious work of the Nazis and that they were actually in service to the Devil himself. They Used Dark Forces (1964) although written in the 60s was set in 1943 and featured Gregory Sallust, a sadistic British spy, who does battle with Ibrahim Malacou -- hypnotist, astrologer and Satanist. They form an unlikely partnership in the war against Nazi Germany. Two earlier books with Sallust as the series protagonist were also set in Germany -- Faked Passports (1940) and The Scarlet Impostor (1940) -- but were more mainstream espionage thrillers lacking any of Wheatley's usual fascination with the occult.
Descending with hawklike motion was a gigantic bat! It had a sort of vague luminosity. The incredibly long body as well as the extended wings were of a gleaming purplish-gray colour: I can only liken it to that of a meat fly or common bluebottle. The wing span, I was prepared to swear, was no less than four yards; the legless body of the thing, which, as it descended, resembled less a bat than a monstrous dragonfly, was close upon six feet! [...]"Merciful heaven!" I whispered. "What does it all mean?"
Woodville will eventually team up with series character Gaston Max and together along with some other do-gooders will discover a criminal organization headed by yet another of Rohmer's mad scientist/evil geniuses with world domination on his mind. The bat-like creatures thought to be vampires turn out to be something altogether far worse and bizarre as only Sax Rohmer could dream up.
For more sampling of thrillers, mysteries and crime fiction set in Germany (with and without Nazis) please visit Mysteries in Paradise, our host site for this tour of spy-ridden, criminal Europe. Beer and schnitzel will be served in the dining car promptly at seven.