The Blurb On The Back:
In the bitter winter of 1947, as the Russian Zone closes around the ruined city, Berliners live on fear and dubiously earned PX goods. So when an enigmatic Russian colonel asks private eye Bernie Gunther to go to Vienna, where his ex-Kripo colleague Emil Becker faces a murder charge, Bernie doesn’t hesitate for long. And Vienna is a different world: prosperous, peaceful, the gracious hostess to the Powers’ proliferating bureaucracies, her buildings and consciences almost rebuilt. Not the aptest haven for a black-marketeer and war criminal – but despite Becker’s unsavoury past, Gunther is convinced that the shooting of an American Nazi-hunter is one crime he didn’t commit.
Gradually, Gunther discovers that Vienna is a mistress of hypocrisy, her smug facades masking the lethal duplicity of another war. Communism is the Americans’ new enemy, and with the Nuremberg trials over, some strange alliances are being forged against the Red Menace – alignments that make many wartime atrocities look lily-white by comparison.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Berlin, 1947 – 9 years after THE PALE CRIMINAL. Bernie Gunther had a complicated War that ended in a Russian POW camp. Now married, he’s resumed his private detective business in a Berlin shattered physically, politically and geographically. But the Allies’ deteriorating relationship reflects Bernie’s deteriorating marriage as he suspects his wife of prostituting herself to American soldiers for food and small luxuries.
When Bernie’s contacted by an Austrian lawyer acting for Emil Becker (Bernie’s Kripo colleague from THE PALE CRIMINAL) who has been arrested for the murder of an American officer in Vienna, he sees an opportunity to temporarily escape his situation. Bernie knows that Becker’s a killer and a war criminal but he’s promised Bernie a small fortune to help him and Bernie believes that he’s actually innocent of this charge. Vienna though is full of deceit and strange alliances where no one can be trusted and Bernie discovers there are some secrets people will commit murder to protect …
The third in Philip Kerr’s BERNIE GUNTHER SERIES is a complex historical thriller that effectively draws on the psychological, physical and political effects of World War II on victors and losers alike and the dubious alliances that came about during the first sparks of the Cold War but the female characters are thinly characterised (and almost all prostitutes) and I didn’t believe in Gunther’s new Catholic faith. I enjoyed the contrast between Vienna (which is rebuilding) and Berlin (a shattered wasteland where people do whatever they have to in order to survive) and the espionage elements are well handled with Bernie caught between the Russians and Americans who are flexing their way towards Cold War hostilities but I wished the relationship with his wife, Kirsten, was as subtly drawn. We learn practically nothing about them or how they met, all that matters is Bernie’s inability to cope with her prostitution. Indeed almost every female character in this book is a prostitute and while that no doubt went on, it’s a shame that they’re all so one-dimensional. Also shoe-horned in is Bernie’s prison camp conversion to Catholicism, which came out of nowhere and seemed to be introduced to keep the plot going. For all this though the gripping plot (involving dead Nazis and an appearance from another of Gunther’s old colleagues) and feel for the period means I’ll definitely check out the next in this series.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.