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A Man Without Breath Audio Download – Unabridged

4.4 out of 5 stars 219 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio Download
  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 12 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks
  • Release Date: 9 May 2013
  • Language: English

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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The 9th Bernie Gunther tale is one of the better ones. The author again places his roguish Berlin detective in a real historical situation, with real historical characters. This limits the degree of surprise [Gunther can't affect the outcome of the Battle of Kursk etc.] and it does mean that the murders the policeman tackles are but drops in an ocean of trouble. On this occasion he is sent to Katyn, where we know now the Soviet secret police massacred Polish army officers. The bodies have just been discovered [1943]. Goebbels wants to publicise the atrocity and divide the Allies. Bernie is given the task of seeing this goes to plan.
He wonders what the point is anyway given that Nazi atrocities in the same area are much worse. He finds himself caught between the various agencies of the Nazi state each pursuing their own agenda. Plots are being hatched against the Leader. The Red Army begins what will be its long march to Berlin. Meanwhile people are turning up with their throats cut. Needless to say, Gunther gets to the bottom of it as well as having a brief fling with a forensic pathologist, as one does.
Kerr gets a lot of authentic detail of the period in. He also is very informative about the true history, including very recent research by Paul Preston The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain.
His hero does very much read like a US private investigator of the 50s, and at times his humorous asides don't quite fit. There remains, too, the problem of Bernie himself - while working for the Third Reich he has to disavow everything it stood for, and this stretches plausibility. But he's still a good read.
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This Bernie Gunther novel is set in 1943 and deals with the events that happened in the Katyn Woods, where several thousand army officers were executed and buried in a mass grave. As usual, Kerr skilfully - and almost effortlessly - combines an intelligent use of history and real characters along with his fictional skills in storytelling, and right up until the end this feels like a very high quality addition to the excellent Bernie Gunther series.

As usual, there is a slight tendency by Kerr to over-plot and over-layer the story, so that by the end several plot strands and mysteries need explaning and tidying up. The final couple of chapters feel quite strange - over-descriptive and padded in one respect, and a bit rushed and unresolved in another, so the book overall reaches a not entirely plausible and satisfying conclusion. Perhaps it was the title of the book, but Kerr almost overdoes the use of the word 'breath' in places, almost trying to spell out the link between the book title and the action, which felt forced and unneccessary.

But, these are small gripes. The Gunther series continues to set the standard for drawing on this dark, terrible but compelling period of modern history, and what always impresses is that Kerr never lets hindsight interfere with the flow of his books, so that the motivations of the characters feels genuine for the times. It's probably hard work to keep on producing work at this level, especially as the timeline of the three orignal novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem) made it very hard to then return to the series in a truly chronological way. Kerr seems to have abandoned the switchback narrative in the most recent books; they seem to work better as a result.
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