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A Man Without Breath
on 15 March 2013
This is the ninth Bernie Gunther novel and, I am pleased to report, it is a fantastic addition to a series which just continues to get better and better. The events in this novel have been mentioned in passing in previous books, in a series which goes backwards and forwards in Gunther's lifetime, from the early 1930's to the years of the Cold War. I was pleased that this was set within WWII - although I have enjoyed all the books, those set before and during the war are, in my opinion, the most enjoyable.
It is 1943 and the Battle of Stalingrad is over, leaving Germany shocked at the defeat. Bernie Gunther has joined the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, thanks to his old boss Arther Nebe. Back in Berlin, Gunther is working with Judge Johannes Goldsche, an old type Prussian judge, with one eye on the end of the war and restoring Germany's reputation with an investigation into a possible mass grave of Polish officers, killed by the Soviets in Smolensk. With that in mind, Gunther is sent to investigate that the grave is indeed that of Polish officers and not a mass grave of Jews, killed by the SS. The possibility that Germans killed the officers is disregarded by those in charge - "the German army does not murder prisoners of war" Gunther is told by an outraged aristocrat.
What makes this book interesting is the irony that Bernie Gunther is investigating a possible war crime, alongside a region where crimes are being perpetrated on a daily basis by the SS and where mass murder has become commonplace. Sent to investigate, Gunther finds a German unit responsible for communications, hoping to sit out the war in comfort and not at all amused at his uncovering old wounds. Add to this the fact that German soldiers have been viciously killed in the area, a group of aristocrats who have idealistic plans to kill the Fuhrer, Gunther's own brand of dark humour and the personal interest of Joseph Goebbels in events and you have an exciting, intelligent and realistic mystery. Not many authors can use real life characters with any degree of realism, but Gunther's meeting with Goebbels is extremely creepy. Philip Kerr has created a realistic scenario and well imagined characters and I hope that Gunther has many more adventures to come. A new Bernie Gunther thriller is a real event and I have been reading, and loving, them since the publication of "March Violets". However, I wish that Kerr's stand alone novels, many of which I really loved and are now no longer in print, were also released on kindle for a new audience, as they are also well worth exploring. Although the Gunther books are best read in order, you could read this as a stand alone thriller.