This is the 8th book in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series. Gunther is the WW2 German policeman, lucky – or unlucky – enough to have his genuine talent as a detective recognized by some of the Nazi elite. For example, in this book, it’s Reinhard Heydrich (the Nazi boss of Bohemia) who orders Gunther to come and work for him.
Gunther has had to leave behind in his beloved Berlin, an investigation into the death of a Dutch railway worker. Also, having foiled the attempted rape of a beautiful hat check girl, Gunther has struck up a relationship with her, and she goes with him to the lion’s den. There, in Heydrich’s castle HQ, a group of SS are gathered and we are treated to a locked room murder mystery. We are also treated to Gunther being rude and nasty to the Nazis.
Warning: if you are well read in the British classical crime world – think Agatha Christie – the mystery will not be much of an, er, mystery. However, in essence that is only a combination hook and frame upon which the author delivers another powerful peek into what those times must have been like.
For example, Gunther has a tainted past. He has returned from service in Russia, having taken part in anti-partisan actions. How this weighs on him affects much of what he says and does.
At times I found the Raymond Chandler aspect of Gunther’s character to be overdone – and unconvincing. However, to balance that, his relationships with the Nazi state are both intriguing and thrilling; just how far will he push his insolence?
The overwhelming sense of dread that fills the book is because we, as readers, also have to inhabit that dreadful time in that dreadful place. It is to the author’s credit that he combines a good crime novel, with a twist of espionage, a dash of history, and a page turning climax with all the loose ends tied up, and the red herrings dispatched. It’s a fine book.