Last updated on November 2nd, 2016The ghost of Dashiell Hammett floats between the pages of The Chocolate Assassin by Peter Durantine, a crime noir novel á la Hammett, Raymond Chandler and the rest. Set between two time periods — present day and World War II Germany — The Chocolate Assassin presents as a hard-boiled crime noir novel, but where Hammett’s characters are surly and disillusioned with life (think Sam Spade), Durantine’s protagonist isn’t bitter, or smart-alecky, or even mad; he’s just a good detective. Similarly, the gritty nature of Hammett’s characters is not present in The Chocolate Assassin, and that’s a good thing because Durantine is his own writer, and Detective Grey is his own man, a detective with a conscience and no particular grudge against life. How refreshing!
The Chocolate Assassin starts with the murder of Eric Hoest, a fisherman, and friend to Oskar Franks, the neighbor who discovers Hoest’s body. Franks is a German ex-pat like Hoest. They both had come to America for a fresh start but apparently, Hoest’s past followed him here. Found at the scene near Hoest’s body are shell casings later determined to be from a Luger, circa late 1930’s, and a recent newspaper article naming Hoest as a former U-Boat Captain.
Detective Sam Grey is a half African-American and half Hispanic grad student working on a Masters in history degree. For the most part, Grey manages to avoid, if not ignore overt racism despite that it’s at the very heart of the book’s subject matter. It helps that Grey’s not all gnarled and bitter on life like your usual crime detective, and that he has a real penchant and talent for his work. Grey follows up on the newspaper clipping found on Hoest’s desk with a trip to the library to search through WWII newspapers. Diligence combined with intuition leads him to uncover several leads and soon he’s off to Germany to track them down, meeting one bizarre character after another, each more mysterious than the last.
Martin Hahn was trained as an elite member of the Hitler Youth and given an assignment of the utmost secrecy as the war was drawing to a close. Hahn and Hoest have a linked past, and it’s possible that Martin is still working undercover for the Nazis more than half a century later, but it will take more than Grey’s interest in history to unravel all the many twists that ultimately lead him to the truth.
It’s no coincidence that Durantine is a journalist by trade and used to digging for a story. The Chocolate Assassin has a no-nonsense style and a flavor for the history of the times without getting lost in it. A nice read for lovers of the crime or historic fiction novel, or for those who just want a well-told, fast-paced and enjoyable Whodunnit.
The above review was originally posted by P.J. Lazos on her blog at Green Life Blue Water.