After the sprawling odyssey of Field Gray, the previous novel in this series, this book takes on the more intimate template of an Agatha Christie “country house murder” – except this country house is owned by a mass murderer, filled with mass murderers and the victim himself is a mass murderer.
The country house is Heydrich’s and he is hosting a weekend party for a group of senior SS officers. Into this mix he draws the narrator, Bernie Gunther, a Berlin detective of Social Democratic and anti-Nazi sympathies, who has managed to keep (relatively) clean hands despite his time in the killing fields of the East. Heydrich wants Gunther to join his bodyguard when the murder occurs, and, as Gunther acknowledges, he is not really a man you can refuse. Hence, as well as investigating a murder amongst murderers, Gunther becomes witness to the beginnings of Heydrich’s reign of terror in the Czech lands (before his just dispatch by the Czechoslovak patriots Kubis and Gabcik, as detailed so brilliantly in Laurent Binet’s stunning novel HHhH).
Gunther is an attractive narrator – wryly witty and historically knowledgeable, though morally questionable, as he himself painfully recognises. Hence as well as being a compelling thriller this book (as does Field Grey) offers some detailed insights into the Nazi regime and Germany’s prosecution of the Second World War. Its a fine, exciting and, at times, poignant novel that, importantly, tries to show the human face and nature of some history’s monsters.