Kerr (Field Gray, 2011, etc.) does moral ambiguity better than most; his flawed yet empathetic hero, Bernie Gunther, is a captain in the Nazi SD—Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers, the SS’s feared intelligence service.
Once a police detective, and always a Nazi-hater, Gunther "got called back into service in thirty-eight. There wasn’t much he could do about it." Haunted, conscious of the moral swamp he navigated, Gunther worked for Heydrich until that devil was assassinated. Now, in Berlin, he’s being drafted into a scheme by Goebbels, Minister of Truth and Propaganda. Gunther must convince beautiful film star Dalia Dresner to return to Berlin moviemaking. However, Dresner demands Goebbels discover what happened to her estranged father, supposedly a priest in Yugoslavia. Kerr does yeoman work with scenes and settings in brave-new-world Berlin and other Nazi environs, then he drops Gunther into "total chaos"—the genocidal maelstrom that’s Croatia. In the murderous melee of Utaše fascist militia, Communist Partisans, royalist Chetniks killing each other—and any other living soul within rifle shot—Gunther’s guided by a burned-out SS captain, Geiger, who shoots first and asks no questions, all while philosophizing: "[T]hat’s what makes horror truly horrible. The knowledge that God sees it all, and does nothing." Gunther soldiers on, tracing Dalia’s father to Jasenovac, a slave labor camp. It’s back to Berlin, then Switzerland, where the United States enters the mix. Morose, sardonic, morally compromised Gunther—"There’s still a sliver of decency left in there"—falls in love with the beautiful Dalia, but happy endings are elusive for one of modern fiction’s more intriguing characters.
For setting, character, plot—and the ability to navigate a moral swamp—le Carré has a rival in Kerr.