Hitler is history, but Bernie Gunther, the SS guy with a heart of gold, is alive and well, and chasing dirty rats in Argentina.
World War II didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to—the Third Reich having lasted noticeably less than 1,000 years—but the Nazis are still in there pitching. The setting has shifted to Argentina, that happy haven for Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and the like-minded. From this hate-mongering group, exempt steel-shelled, mushy-hearted Bernhard Gunther, famous once as the policeman Berlin’s malefactors loved to hate. True enough, Bernie eventually left the force to put in some obligatory time among the goose-steppers, but what’s a man to do when he’s a born survivalist? The SS or the concentration camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc.) were the sole choices available even to an iconic sleuth whose case-cracking record had long been the stuff of headlines. “ ‘You were a hero of mine,’ ” says Colonel Montalbán, Argentina’s top cop, as Bernie modestly averts his eyes. Bernie senses that what Montalbán has planned for him will seriously interfere with his own plans. Having arrived in Argentina the hard way—consider an unpleasant detour to a Russian prison camp—Bernie now regards himself as a noncombatant. Just find this missing German girl for me, says Montalbán, adding reassuringly that it’s the kind of case Bernie has always excelled at. But somehow Bernie is not reassured, since over Montalbán’s siren song, he hears another kind of rhythm—the sound of jackboots marching toward him.
Warts and all—Kerr makes little attempt to hide them—Bernie Gunther (The One from the Other, 2006, etc.) remains endearing, entertaining and eminently forgivable.