On the back of Craig Nova’s latest novel, The Informer, bold yellow letters claim that this is “a story of a time and place like our own.” Seeing as the book takes place in Berlin during the Weimar Republic of the 1930s, I cracked open the book a skeptic. As I became familiar with the characters—a female police officer, a prostitute and informer, a suspicious 16-year-old boy with a limp, and multiple communists and Nazis—I decided that someone really ought to tell the Crown Publishing Group that The Informer is not exactly a story of a time and place like our own; at least, I know that does not really describe my immediate world. However, once I had gotten through its 300-some pages and glanced again at the back cover, I thought that perhaps, like the novel itself, that tagline asks readers to think a little deeper.
The Informer is a complicated tale. It helps to have taken a history class, and the reader has to pay close attention to follow the plot line. The first half of the book was a struggle between feeling detached from the story and needing to read it through to even understand what was going on.
The novel begins with Gaelle, a desirable prostitute in Berlin known for her intriguing facial scar, and her pimp and friend Felix, a 16-year-old boy with a limp. One minor annoyance throughout the novel was that Nova did not make Felix a very convincing 16-year-old. I kept picturing him as a sketchy and disgruntled 30-something. The scene narrows in on Gaelle’s thoughts and fears; she believes she is going to be murdered for “informing.” We later learn that this means she is used by and using various political figures to find out information about the Communists and the Nazis, and then reporting that information to the opposite side for money and a false sense of security.
At the same time, the book follows Armina, a female police officer who is trying to find a serial killer who has been loose in the park murdering ladies of the night, like Gaelle herself. The stories begin to get closer as Armina tries to recruit Gaelle to help her with her case, and eventually they collide in a shocking and unexpected ending.
Overall, Nova has created a tale that is well-paced and full of action. The only disturbance was that his characters often seemed unconvincing and superficial. At least three of them have internal monologues in which they describe their overwhelming desire to love and be loved and how lonely they are, and Nova attempts to present these passages as genuine examples of character depth. Instead, they come off as unoriginal and flat. Felix, as mentioned before, is hard to imagine and relate to. This lack of character development also occurs with Gaelle’s eventual boyfriend, which makes their love seem unrealistic and unrelatable. This is very unsatisfying to the reader, especially considering Nova’s focus on establishing love as a central theme in the novel.
All this brings me back to the tagline, which claimed that The Informer relates to us a story of our own world. Even though the setting is completely different and the plot is considerably different from most people’s lives (especially college students), perhaps something within these pages does ring true: the theme of needing someone—whether it be someone to love, someone who loves you, someone to protect you from harm, or simply someone’s affection. Although Nova creates a fascinating description of the tension of politics, corruption, and morals, perhaps what he really wants to impress upon his readers is the universality of love and friendship.