A Waffen SS colonel plans to profit from World War II while his adjutant hopes to survive it in this tale of good and evil, sex and love.
Young Cpl. Shtefan Brandt looks fit and Aryan, so Col. Himmel chooses him as his adjutant. Himmel is a dashing hero who leads his men on daring raids against the Allies without “a bone of fear in his body.” Brandt is Catholic, but he’s terrified that Himmel will find out that he's mischling—he had a Jewish great-grandmother. Fortunately, "for an assassin, a brigand, a tyrant and a thief, my master did have his good points,” such as never checking Brandt’s background. The thoroughly apolitical Himmel knows Germany is losing the war, and he schemes to steal the Allied payroll from a train. Characters are well-portrayed—Shtefan is upright, principled, even virginal until Himmel orders him to bed a woman. He fears disappointing his master, who can put a bullet in his head at any time. In occupied France, they see the beautiful 18-year-old Gabrielle Belmont, whose parents have been executed. The hateful Himmel takes her as his unwilling mistress—if she refuses, he’ll make certain her townsfolk die—but both men are smitten with her. In time she secretly loves Shtefan, but both live “only at the Colonel’s whim,” so if they even hint at their feelings they will both die. Himmel reveals his robbery plan to Shtefan, which includes them and Gabrielle absconding to South America with the loot. But Shtefan hopes to steal both Gabrielle and some of the money from Himmel. Disgusting as the colonel is, he’s an insightful man. Knowing from an intercepted letter that Shtefan’s mother has just been sent to Dachau, he tells his adjutant that “In the end, your kind will find my kind.”
A fast-moving plot and vivid characters make this a most satisfying read.