After 15 years, Kerr (Hitler’s Peace, 2005, etc.) dusts off his most compelling protagonist: Bernie Gunther, postwar Berlin’s hardest-boiled PI.
Last seen in A German Requiem (1991), Bernie’s still ready to nail bad guys—if only there weren’t so many of them. Ex-Nazis, collaborators of every description, Messalina-like ladies as beautiful as they are wicked . . . the Teutonic melting pot brims with no-goods. As for Bernie himself, well, his copybook is hardly un-blotted. Not that he’d ever been happy about enlisting in the S.S., which, in fact, had been more an impressment than an enlistment. But there are things in his recent past that Bernie isn’t proud of, and now he stands an excellent chance of adding to the list. Long-legged, elegant, self-confident Frau Britta Warzok “looked as if she needed help as much as Venice needed rain,” but nevertheless she’s come to Bernie’s office requesting some. She wants him to find her husband, a death-camp commander who is now among the most-sought-after of war criminals. When Bernie points out this unpleasant fact, Frau Warzok explains that what she wants is for him to find her husband dead so that she, a good Roman Catholic, can marry someone else. Leery of the gig but hurting for cash, Bernie signs on. The search does nothing to change his bleak opinion, hardened by a spell in a Soviet POW camp, that “the human propensity to be inhumane” is practically limitless. As a kind of epiphany, it suddenly occurs to our hard-pressed hero that the hunt for Friedrich Warzok has transmogrified into a well-mounted, ill-intentioned, almost-certain-to-succeed hunt for Bernie Gunther.
Grim and gripping, with all the author’s customary sure-handedness in evidence.