Zugzwang by JJ Toner is listed in the genre of historical fiction. The 46-page short story is offered at the fantastic price of free for anyone by the Amazon site and is not a part of the Kindle Unlimited subscription program.
The story is set in the Nazi era at a time when it seemed that Hitler could be stopped before he came to supreme power. Already known as the Fuhrer, he had fired a chauffeur over an incident involving the death of Geli Raubal, a cousin to Hitler. Gossip and rumor will probably always surround the death of the cousin. Was it suicide? Were she and Hitler lovers? Was there a situation where she loved him and he didn’t return the sentiment? Did Hitler have her killed? None of these questions will be answered in this short story.
This is the story of the brutal killings of three women supposedly with unconnected past lives. The women were killed, mutilated, and discarded in public places. Kriminaldirektor Mydas assigns his best detective, Kriminalkommisar Saxon of the Munich Kripo to solve the case. Saxon will replace former case officer Hessel who has been deemed competent but slow by Mydas. The pressure is on for a quick resolution. This is a time of reorganization and power grabbing for Hitler. In 1933 there are still Brownshirts, gangs of thugs with extrajudicial authority who used most of it to begin the programs of persecution of the Jews. There is also the SS, a branch that has authority over the police. Saxon has to constantly ask to whom he reports. As the pressure for an arrest mounts, Saxon finds himself reporting not to his boss but to the SS in the person of SS-Standardtenführer Kratschik
Saxon begins to see connections between the three murders. Frau Heppeck, a 59-year-old housekeeper and one of the victims, had worked as a housekeeper for Hitler at the time of the Geli suicide. Another victim had worked as a tutor for Geli. A third victim was the friend of Geli’s tutor. Saxon had lots to do as he interviewed all acquaintances, employers, and friends of the victims. As Saxon develops leads, the suspect list grows to include his SS boss and his own assistant, Kriminaloberassistent Glasser. Hitler might even be involved.
This was a nostalgic read for me as I am German and I lived most of my time in Munich during tours of duty with the US Army. The police bureaucracy is quite familiar. For people of my generation, there is no avoiding the history of the time.
There is an understated surprise ending. To fully appreciate it, a person would have to have experienced living under an authoritarian, unchecked, non-transparent government. It’s an ending that will surprise any reader; it is terrifying for those who have experienced it.