In 1930, although Berlin is at the forefront of the arts, architecture, and science, all of Germany is poised to head down the long road to economic upheaval and Nazi dominance. "Children of Wrath" is placed at the tipping point and chronicles the beginnings of the slide downwards. When the economic structure fails, there are a disturbing number of homeless and orphaned children roaming the streets. Someone is preying on these invisible ones.
And it is in 1930 Berlin that Willi suffers the humiliation of being a second-class citizen because he is Jewish. The ones who shout the loudest and impede him the most are his fellow Kripo agents and superiors. At first he is handed the case of the bag of bones. Then when the profile threatens to explode publicly, the case is taken away from him and given to Freksa, the media darling of Kripo.
Instead, Willi is given a case of food poisoning. A deadly bacteria has been mixed in with the city's ubiquitous sausages, and people are dying. Disgruntled and frustrated by his status in the department, Willi nevertheless tries to track down the source of the listeria. That is how he first comes into contact with the huge meat processing district, the Viehof. From live animal to consumer-ready meat and by-products, Willi learns the business. It is through his research and interviews there that he runs across a clue to what the media has dubbed "Der Kinderfesser," the child-eater.
Although there are times when "Children of Wrath" seems more like a travelogue than a thriller -- action stops as Paul Grossman points out the sights, hoping to anchor the story in the appropriate setting -- it manages to move along at a fast-enough pace. The main story is plenty scary, but it is the depiction of Willi's family life and the affect that prejudice has on them that is the real triumph for this book.
"Children of Wrath" is Paul Grossman's second book, following "The Sleepwalkers," the first Willi Kraus book. It is, however, the prequel to "The Sleepwalkers," taking place a couple of years before. In oddly satisfying epilogues, Grossman ends each book with a look into the future of the characters after WWII.
P.S. This may put you off sausages for a while.