Where did Kraus come from?
I wanted to write a novel set during the final days of the Weimar Republic, using the political drama of the Nazi rise to power as a backdrop. In researching the subject, I came across the remarkable figure of Bernhard Weiss, who was one of Berlin’s top cops at the time. He was the first Jew ever to have risen to the top echelons of German law enforcement. It sparked the idea of creating a Jewish detective working during those tumultuous last months of democracy.
And then your editor suggested that you write a prequel?
I was shocked when they chose a prequel for me to write as my second novel. In the first book, The Sleepwalkers, I casually mentioned an earlier case of Willi’s about an infamous “Child Eater.” Suddenly, I had to write an entire novel based on the case. It wasn’t my first preference, and once I committed to the project, I really had to pick my brain intensely to come up with a feasible plot. But gradually, the elements began falling into place. One major influence in my decision making was the works of German psychologist Alice Miller and her ideas on how German child-rearing practices of the 19th century became a key component in the rise of Nazism. A few pictures of Berlin’s long gone stockyards really got my mind going. I wound up setting whole segments of the book there.
What about Weimer Germany surprised you the most?
What an extraordinary flowering of culture there was in Berlin from 1919 until 1933. In painting, literature, film, architecture, design, theater, music, Berlin was on the absolute cutting edge of modernity. Few places ever experience that intense and short-lived a renaissance. And it ended virtually overnight. Many people think Hitler seized power through force. Actually, he was handed it. He only consolidated and made it absolute through force.
What was it like trying to sell fiction before The Sleepwalkers?
I’d slave for a year on something, then send it out and consider myself lucky if I even got a rejection. Usually it just disappeared into a black hole and I never heard anything about it again. I kept writing, though, because I love doing it. In the (very) long run it paid off.
What’s next for the series?
France. I’m already well into the third book of the series. Willi’s going to have to do his detective work in a very different world than the one to which he is accustomed.