When fans meet Bernie Gunther in this latest saga in the adventurous life of the hard-bitten, sardonic policeman, Kerr's (If the Dead Rise Not, 2010, etc.) stalwart Berliner detective is in pre-Castro Cuba.
But Cuba is no refuge. To prevent being forced to work for Batista, he tries to sail to the Dominican Republic, only to be caught by a U.S. Navy patrol boat. It doesn't help that his passenger is a rebel partisan wanted for murder. Gunther's identity discovered, he is sent first to a military prison in New York City and then to the infamous Landsberg prison where the Weimar Republic held Hitler and where the Allies interrogated, tried and sometimes hanged Nazi war criminals. It does no good for Gunther's future that he had served in a SS military police unit on the bloody Eastern Front and had more than a passing acquaintance with devils like Reinhard Heydrich. Kerr propels the story, framed around historical facts and characters, through several flashbacks. The author's ironic perceptions find an SS colonel quoting Goethe as he presides over the massacre of a town full of Jewish civilians and Gunther wryly observing the Franzis (French), the Amis (Americans) and human nature in general: "Sometime morality is just a corollary of laziness." The flashbacks are easily followed, from pre-war Berlin to the murderous hell of the 1941 Eastern Front to postwar slave-labor camps behind the Iron Curtain. Those dealing with Gunther's search for a German communist in 1940 France are truly revealing, especially the descriptions of historical places like the concentration camps in Vichy France. While some might quibble over occasional long sequences of dialogue that would be better served with tags, Kerr writes Gunther as he should be—world-weary, sardonic and as independent as an introspective man might be as he ricochets between murderous criminals, hell-bent Nazis or revenge-minded communists. The double-double cross denouement suggests Gunther will live to fight another day.
An accomplished thriller.