In the waning days of World War I, a horrific crime behind the lines sends Lieutenant Gregor Reinhardt on a search for a killer in this electrifying thriller from the author of The Man from Berlin.
It's the final days of the Great War and four years of grinding conflict has warped more than one man's mind. When a secret meeting of top brass is called someone sets off a bomb that kills all the attendees. It looks for sure that one of the men in Gregor Reinhardt's company is the culprit. But since that man killed himself, the General is looking for someone else to share the blame. Reinhardt must prove his trooper innocent if he hopes to avoid the fate of a co-conspirator.
The search for answers leads Reinhardt deep into a potential conspiracy populated by mutinous soldiers, a mysterious Russian nobleman, and a pair of doctors who may be doing more than treating battlefield injuries. The trenches are home to any number of horrors, but what if the greatest danger is right next to you?
Release date: December 7, 2021
Print pages: 528
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
From a Dark Horizon
The Western Front, near the village of
ViŽville-sur-Trey, northwest France, mid-July 1918
They came for Reinhardt as he was sleeping, the door crashing open on a confusion of men and voices that snapped him awake. A shadow loomed over him and he lunged for the Mauser atop the chest by his bed, only to have a hand clamp down painfully on his wrist.
"Lieutenant Reinhardt?" Someone shone a torch down on him.
He blinked the light from his eyes, turning his head away. A sense of wide shoulders, light glinting on the rim of a helmet. "Get that bloody light out of my face."
"Lieutenant Reinhardt?" the voice asked again, the hand pressing down harder.
Reinhardt took his other hand out from under his pillow, moving slowly, and pushed, firmly. The light flicked away, the hand lifted from his arm. Reinhardt saw a Feldgendarme-a military policeman, a sergeant, built like a beer barrel-standing over him. The policeman was blinking down at the little JŠger pistol Reinhardt had pushed into his groin. The sergeant lifted the pressure on Reinhardt's hand, and stepped back carefully.
"Apologies for waking you," said a lieutenant, stepping into view.
"Make it sound like you mean it," Reinhardt said as he shifted himself up and swung his legs out of bed, lowering the pistol and levering the safety catch down against the grip. Behind the lieutenant stood two more Feldgendarmes, and Sergeant Brauer. "What time is it?"
"Not far off three in the morning," answered the lieutenant.
"For Christ's sake, Lieutenant." Reinhardt tossed the pistol on his pillow and collapsed back onto his bed, an arm across this face. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"Lieutenant Uwe Cranz, Feldgendarmerie. You are the commanding officer of Private Willy Sattler?"
Reinhardt hauled himself back up, paused as he began threading his arms into a shirt. "What's he done now?"
"'Now'?" Cranz repeated.
"Willy Sattler? A one-man committee to end the war . . . ?"
"Private Sattler's accused of murder, Lieutenant. It's no joking matter."
"Murder?" Reinhardt repeated. "Who?"
"Never you mind that."
"What d'you mea . . . ?"
"Private Sattler was confined to quarters, wasn't he?"
"Who told you that? What's going on?"
"Lieutenant Otterstedt told us and told us where to find you."
"He did? That officious little . . ." The rest of Reinhardt's words were swallowed as he levered the shirt over his head, and as Sergeant Brauer coughed loudly. "But . . . ?"
"Be quiet, and answer my questions, Lieutenant Reinhardt. Things'll go faster that way." Cranz looked barely older than Reinhardt, and he looked like a competent enough man. But his uniform was spotless next to the filth that creased Reinhardt's where it was draped over the chair by his bed, and Reinhardt could not help feeling that twist of contempt that the infantry had for those who fought the war at the rear. Besides, however irrational it was, Reinhardt felt the urge to needle him. And Otterstedt, when he got his hands on that creep . . .
"Yes, Private Sattler is confined to quarters."
"What was he confined to quarters for?"
"Private Sattler was a pioneer in your platoon, is that right?"
"Yes. What do you mean 'was'?"
"You answer my questions, Lieutenant. Not me yours. A pioneer. Familiar with explosives, demolitions, things like that?"
"Things that go bang, Lieutenant. Exactly," said Reinhardt, unable to keep the contempt from his voice.
"I'm starting to see where Private Sattler got his attitude."
"Look, Cranz, if you don't start answering my questions . . ."
"It would be easier to show you, Lieutenant. Get dressed."
"What I'm . . . trying to do . . ." said Reinhardt, hopping from one leg to the other as he pulled his trousers on. "Will you at least tell me what has happened to Sattler?"
"Private Sattler has taken his own life. And the lives of several Feldgendarmes."
Reinhardt paused as he swung on his jacket, one hand patting his pocket for the letter from home. "What? Why?"
"Because he had just blown up a house full of officers, Lieutenant."
The house had once been something grand. A manor house, perhaps, the seat of a landed family with roots and tradition, but that was all over now. The house had been blown open, a great crack like a triangle with its point in the ground running across one of its walls. The front door had been blown off its hinges, and the forecourt was covered in shards of glass and stones, some furred with mortar.
Reinhardt turned where he stood in the house's forecourt, the smoke of his cigarette spiraling up and away from him. The coming dawn shaded the eastern horizon with a band of lemon, but the moon still hung clear as a coin in a sky with a clean sprinkle of stars. Beneath it all, the edges and angles of the world lay softened beneath a blanket of mist.
The house was part of a wider farm complex, a centuries-old tangle of buildings, sheds, barns, and walls that clotted the land to the east of the village of ViŽville-sur-Trey. The whole farm had been given over to a training range where the stormtroopers practiced their tactics and ran training courses for the officers and sergeants. There was a mock trench network to be assaulted or defended, there were walls to climb, obstacles to overcome, ruins to navigate, cover to be sought and used. There were storehouses, workshops, and armories. There was a firing range. It was all quiet, though. The Feldgendarmerie had closed the place down, guards posted at the entrances.
This house had stood alone in the shelter of a copse of old trees. It was at the end of a strip of road of hard, packed mud that wound up from the farm proper, through unkempt vines that still kept their rows in sad tangles, and down which ran a pair of ruts like train tracks. Reinhardt knew the house as a place where the officers among the stormtroopers had heard lectures, conducted tabletop training exercises, taken a little rest when it was offered. It had had a comforting feel to it, the walls weathered smooth, and the massive beams of the rooms showing the varnished shine of centuries. The house had come through the war relatively unscathed despite having been occupied first by Frenchmen, then Germans, then French again, and now Germans once more. Artillery spotters had once nested in its roof when the front lines had been closer, as the house stood on a slight rise, the countryside unfurling in all directions around it.
From beside the front door, Lieutenant Otterstedt peered at him over the flat tops of his spectacles. The operations officer looked like the provincial schoolmaster he once was and was aptly suited to the work he did. He had ten years on Reinhardt, but the same rank, and that had to rankle. "About bloody time, Reinhardt."
"I came as quick as I could, seeing as you asked so nicely. Why are you here, anyway?"
"Duty officer, Reinhardt. You might remember there is such a thing."
"Vaguely. What's going on, then?"
"Your man finally cracked, is what happened."
"What are you talking about?"
"Come to express a morbid fascination at your man's handiwork?"
"I might express such fascination if I knew what the fuck everyone's so quick to blame him for," Reinhardt snapped. Otterstedt blinked, voices fell silent. With Otterstedt, it was better to get your hits in quick and sharp, Reinhardt had found, else he would not stop with the drip, drip of his little acidic comments.
Otterstedt flushed. "Bad blood will out, Reinhardt, that's what they say."
"What does that mean?"
"Bombing's a terrorist thing. An eastern thing. A Bolshevik thing. Didn't all you easterners get all close and personal to that?"
"What's that mean?" he asked again, lighting a cigarette.
"It means all you easterners brought bad habits with you. We had none of this before you arrived."
Reinhardt blew smoke straight at Otterstedt. "What does that mean?" he repeated, slowly, holding the other man's gaze. "'You easterners.' I'm 'from the East.' Do you see me throwing bombs around, other than at the French? Sergeant Brauer is 'from the East.' Shall we call him over?"
Otterstedt paled. "I'm sure . . . sure there's no need, Reinhardt."
"How about Colonel Meissner?" Reinhardt continued. "Shall we ask the colonel for his political opinions?"
Otterstedt blinked, and it seemed he regained himself. "Quite. The colonel, yes. I'm sure . . . sure that won't be necessary, Reinhardt." He smiled, a quick flash of his teeth. "Rumors are flying," Otterstedt finished, weakly.
There was not much to see inside, Reinhardt saw, as he and Brauer followed Otterstedt and Cranz. Something like a bomb had indeed gone off inside, in the big kitchen area, which had been the center of the house. It had been a comfortable room, running almost the length of the building. A huge stone fireplace had warmed it, and the thick stone walls had kept out the cold in winter and the heat in summer. It was a shambles now, a sprawl of smashed furniture, the remains of the kitchen's long table of heavy wood scattered like a broken shipwreck. There was blast-damage on the walls, and the big timbers of the ceiling had had their darkness of centuries scored off.
The place stank of smoke and fire, and of explosives, and enough blood had been spilled here that its iron tang was plain. Dark stains daubed the floor and walls, blood and viscera that had congealed into smeared streaks, bubbled and whorled so that the light broke glittering across them. Beneath the stench of the blast and blood was a souring smell of spilled alcohol, incongruously homely. Several crates of wine had been upended, some of the bottles lying smashed in dark puddles.
"Quite the scene, wouldn't you agree?" Cranz asked.
Reinhardt exchanged a quick glance with Brauer. Cranz radiated satisfaction, a rigid sense of pride in his profession, but he had not seen many battlefields if he considered this "quite the scene."
"Olbrich?" Brauer called. "Any ideas?"
Brauer had sent for Olbrich when the word came in. He was one of the pioneers in Reinhardt's company-combat engineers, experts in demolition and explosives. A former coal miner, Olbrich was a wide, heavy man with hands like shovels and, like so many men of his size, he was a slow and gentle man, careful with his strength.
"It's all a bit confusing, sir, and you never can tell for sure. Something went off there, sure enough," he said, pointing at a blackened rosette in the flagstone floor. Everything seemed to have been blown apart and away from there, left like the wrack of a high tide across the floor and up against the walls and the corners.
"Think you can tell what it was that did this?"
Olbrich's mouth twisted as he marshaled his words. "Could be a bomb." Cranz scoffed, but Olbrich plowed on. "Could be a demolitions charge of some sort. But, like I said, sir, you can never tell for sure. Won't be able to tell until all this is cleared up a bit, and we've a bit of time to go over it. Start picking up fragments and whatnot."
"Fragments, eh?" Otterstedt said. "They're all over the place. Good luck making sense out of them."
"You would be surprised, Otterstedt, what sense you can make out of a place like this, if only you know how to look, and if only you want to."
"I say, Reinhardt, what are you implying?" Otterstedt spluttered. "It's pretty obvious what happened, and it's pretty obvious who did it."
"If you say so," Reinhardt said, dismissively, ignoring the bloom of red on Otterstedt's face. "Does it look like Sattler's work?" he asked Olbrich. The pioneer ducked his head down, hunching away from Otterstedt, looking miserable. He had not been close to Sattler, but a comrade was a comrade, alive or dead. "It's fine, Olbrich. Whatever you say stays with us," Reinhardt said, with a meaningful look at Otterstedt and Cranz.
"Yes, sir. I can't really tell, sir. I mean . . ." He hesitated, then picked something off the floor near the wall. "Sattler did like to work with these," he said, a handful of shrapnel balls the size of marbles in the bowl of his palm. "He'd put them round a shaped charge, rig it to a pressure plate." Olbrich poured the shrapnel into Reinhardt's hand, and his palm shivered around the sudden cold contact and weight of them. He rolled them in his hand, clacking them quietly.
"There you are, then," Cranz said, triumphantly.
"But . . . but I don't think that kind of charge would've been the best for in here. Pressure charge's got to be triggered. Someone's got to walk on it. We leave 'em in trenches, under floorboards and the like. In here . . ." Olbrich shrugged.
"What, man? Make sense, for goodness' sake!" Otterstedt snapped.
"He's making sense," Reinhardt snapped back. "You're not listening, and you betray your ignorance . . ."
"Sir," Brauer coughed.
The three lieutenants faced off, Reinhardt white with anger, Otterstedt and Cranz red with humiliation. Reinhardt took a deep breath, inclined his head. "My apologies, Cranz. Otterstedt. Go on, Olbrich. What makes most sense?"
"Me, if I were doing it? I wouldn't leave a pressure charge. Too obvious. It'd be a delayed-action fuse, sir. Set a timer to a charge."
"Well, there you are, then," Cranz said again, his voice tight. "A charge on a timer."
Reinhardt sighed, gave a small nod at Brauer's warning glance.
"More than one," Reinhardt said. Olbrich nodded.
"Walk us through the setup, Olbrich. Best you can," Brauer said.
Olbrich's eyes roved. "I don't know what this place looked like before . . ."
"Big table in the middle of the room," Reinhardt said. "Chairs down each side. Old furniture, like that dresser, down the far end."
"Right. My guess . . . there was one bomb under the table, and a second one in that dresser. Get a spread to the blasts. Look. Blast pattern there on the floor," he said, a little less apologetic as he warmed to his narrative, "which goes up," his finger waved across the damage to the roof, and then at the splintered remnants of the table, "and there," he said, pointing at a big wooden dresser, the front of which had been blown clear through and off.
"Cross fire," Brauer nodded.
"What does this mean?" Cranz asked, confusion in his voice even if he was trying his best to hide it on his face.
"One bomb exploding up under the table, and a second across it," Reinhardt said to Cranz. "Two blast waves. Vertical, and lateral."
The Feldgendarme nodded, his face clearing.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...