I had not come across Bernie Gunther before this book, the seventh in a series but one that stands up very well on its own.
The jacket note describes the book as relating to Gunther being press ganged into working for the French intelligence service to identify a war criminal. But this is merely an element in a plot that sprawls across 23 years, taking in the rise of the Nazis, the occupation of France, the invasion of Ukraine, the battle of Konigsberg and the fate of German prisoners in Russian hands after the war. Heydrich and Graham Greene have walk on parts in the novel along with a variety of other real people.
To say the novel is a thriller may be true, but it is not like any other thriller I have read. It is also part war story and a meditation on German history in general and its war and war crimes on the Eastern front in particular. This historical aspect of the story is compelling enough in itself, but a dramatic arc is also established across the book through the relationship relationship between Gunther and another real individual co-opted into the narrative Erich Mielke, a veteran German communist.
In the Russian camps a character alludes to the Odyssey, and this more than Raymond Chandler is the template upon which this story plays out. Gunther here is a wise cracking Odyesseus, brilliantly cunning but, after the war, cursed to wander the world remembering his Penelope as he searches for his home.
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