In The Pale Criminal it is accepted that there is a serial killer. The similarities in the deaths of teenage girls in Berlin are recognized by the Berlin police and the Nazi leadership.
In the U.S.S.R. of the early 1950’s there is a refusal to acknowledge a serial killer can exist in the socialist state killing young boy after young boy in different towns.
In the Communist China of the 1990’s the Party leadership is left with little option for the killer clothes his victims in the classic Red Mandarin dress. Before the economic liberalization the book suggests serial killers were kept secret. However, in the new economy media must support itself and crime, especially garish crime sells well.
The dramatic costuming of the victims creates a media frenzy. The population is utterly absorbed by the murders.
For the Nazis it is important to catch the real killer. Reinhard Heydrich, among the most ideological of the top leaders, explains to Bernie that they must find the killer as family is at the heart of the Nazi state.
In Russia the State is not concerned if the real killer is caught. As long as someone is caught the mirage of the perfect socialist state is maintained. Local authorities, under intense pressure from central authorities, select, almost at random, a local “undesireable” to be charged, convicted and executed.
For Communist China as with the other regimes the presence of a serial killer is an affront to the honour of the Party and leadership demands the police find the killer.
In both Germany and Russia the news of the serial killers is kept secret. As bodies mount in each country word is spreading of young people being killed but the state’s crushing grip on media prevents widespread public disclosure.
As set out above the situation is different in Communist China where the state’s iron grip on the media no longer extends to non-political crime coverage.
In Nazi Germany and Communist China extensive resources are committed to the investigations reflecting the determination of the estate to swiftly find the serial killer.
It is Kafkaesque in Russia where the investigation takes place despite the State. The Communist leadership sees an investigation as questioning the system. Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa risk their lives to chase the killers.
In the sensitive investigations Bernie Gunther in Germany and Chief Inspector Chen in China are adroit at managing their relationships with high ranking authorities interested in the investigations. It is not enough to be a good investigator. They must also be skilled politicians.
On the other hand Leo and Raisa are not adept at dealing with the authorities. Still they would have had to go after the Russian killer by subterfuge in any event because of the official denial there is a serial killer.
Without giving any spoilers I found it intriguing that in each of the books the motivations of the killers stemmed from a connection with the ideology of the governing dictatorship. The respective leaderships were right to be concerned that the serial killers were challenging the State by their actions.
It is hard to say you enjoy a book about a serial killer. I was glad that I read each of these books and appreciated how the authors worked their serial killer into the political philosophy of the totalitarian state in which they resided.