Setting: The action flashes back and forth, mostly between Berlin (1932) and Buenos Aires (1950).
Story: Bernie Gunther was a policeman in Berlin who comes to Buenos Aires in 1950. The story links his unsuccessful investigation of young girls in Berlin, with him being recruited to solve different crimes in his new homeland. Gunther has to deal with the demands of his secret police boss, the suspicion of his fellow countrymen, and the complex, multi-layered politics of Peronist Argentina. It’s a perfect example of trying to walk between the raindrops.
Good Stuff: Kerr knows his Nazi Germany, and has done his research on the escape of many to Argentina. He blends fact with fiction, superbly, building up a complete – and terrible – picture of the time and the place. Some famous Nazis make significant appearances in the book, all – so far as I can tell from a limited check – consistent with their actual lives, and the author establishes a credible relationship between that community and the Argentinians.
Kerr writes like a dream. He fuses some Chandlersque prose with several sharp pieces of observation on many of the difficult topics he deals with. The plot is a bit wayward at times, but works. And as a bonus, we get to see in novel form the rise of the Nazis to power. Powerful stuff.
Not So Good Stuff: Gunther is not a Nazi, but he’s no angel. He makes no secret of his position and it seemed surprising he survived at all. And sometimes, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief in his choice of action. In other words, Gunther was Goodie Two Shoes Gunther. I suspect this feeling is because I am too much of a cynic and you experience may be different. Certainly, the Gunther character is a powerful one and Kerr uses him wisely.