“Pretty good - well written, but I just can't wrap my head around a German hero in a WWII tale.”Paul D wrote this review Sunday, October 6, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Book 9, in the Bernard Gunther Mystery
It can get enough of this author’s wonderful imagination. His novels although in good part fiction have a chilling authenticity to them. Each story is based on actual events that happened during the horrible years of the Nazi Germany. Through his words he brings back to life the monsters who committed evil acts against humanity.
The year is 1943, Bernie working for the German War Crimes Bureau is sent to Smolensk to bring light on the unsettling reports of a mass grave found in Katyn Forest, a wolf has unearth human remains validating the claim. Finding the truth is not always what the “High Muck-a- Mucks” want to hear….and Bernie will soon be caught in very difficult situations and scarcely escaping the noose……(Short and sweet summary to pique your interest, a most captivating read)
With skills this novel set the scene of the Russian massacre of Polish officers and resuscitates German leaders to make a very grimly and realistic plot. This layered historical novel and murder mystery starts as dramatically as it ends and offers startling revelations about the life under the Third Reich. This is an engrossing story that examines the brutality at its most horrific and smoothly portrays the despicable inner circle of a regime. It further explores what Mr. Kerr’s expertly excels in: portraying the complex moral dilemmas of an immoral society and this from Bernie’s point of views. This installment is a page turner and a great addition to a very interesting series.
“interesting book, I liked the character and the WWII setting. It was from a German's point of view which was different. This is a series with the same character so I will read some more of the books. Well developed characters and a good story line which surprises you at the ending.”Wendy S wrote this review Sunday, July 7, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A great fix for my addiction to this noir detective series featuring Bernie Gunther trying to forge some justice within Nazi Germany during the war. In my mind, noir fiction typically involves a cynical hero up against pervasive corruption that almost has a life of its own, almost to the point of evil become a force like in literature with magical realism. The detective is like a doctor who prescribes a healthier dose of reality, bringing evil down to a more human scale of simple greed and corruption. So for me, the brilliance of Kerr’s work lies in his ability to deflate the evil enigma of the Nazi social order with Gunther’s precious conscience, his unveiling of common criminal motives behind the monsters, and his brave taunting of the bullies with his sardonic wit.
This story, 9th in the series, is largely set in Smolensk in 1943 where Gunther is tasked by his current bosses in the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau to check out whether a mass grave in the Katyn Wood might be evidence of a slaughter perpetrated by the Soviet secret police (NKVD). He soon turns up evidence that the victims were Polish officers, but further investigation will have to wait for the ground to thaw. Unfortunately, there is a hurry because at this point, in the months after defeat in Stalingrad, the Soviet forces are quickly headed west. And there is danger for all involved if the massacre turns out to be another of the many perpetrated by the SS, such as the liquidation of residents of the nearby Jewish ghetto in Vitebsk after the German invasion.
If his suspicions are true about NKVD guilt, it would represent a major propaganda coup which could undermine the cohesion of the Allied Forces. Goebbels himself, head of the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda, tasks Gunther with assuring the case is handled properly, and his life is on the line if he fails. Gunther suggests an international commission of forensic scientists under the neutral coordination of the Polish Red Cross. The latter is historical fact, and Bernie’s role makes for fascinating fiction.
While Gunther is in Smolensk, he gets asked for advice from the local police about a rape/murder case, which leads to implication of German soldiers who serve with the signals corps, i.e. the staff who deal with sensitive coded messages. Other murders occur, which if not resolved properly could end up scaring off the scientists working on the investigation. The shape of larger conspiracies begins to take form, and for the greater good, Gunther is forced to commit a violent crime against an innocent person himself. This may tarnish forever the heroic image some readers may hold for Bernie, while others (like me) would hold his action as a fitting end to a moral purity too implausible for these treacherous times.
There may be a little bit too much of Zelig in this book, with Gunther intersecting so many other historical figures and important events. Aside from the pervasive focus on the Katyn Forest Massacre that indeed executed about 4,000 Polish officers and police (among about 20,000 total in the campaign of 1940), Gunther’s work brings him in contact with several of the Prussian aristocrats in the military involved in plots to kill Hitler and with evidence related to major secrets that elucidate Hitler’s success in gaining power and staying in power. Kerr obviously couldn’t resist the excuse to bring these events to life, and I loved the forays despite their implausibility for Gunther being in the picture. I was compelled to keep a channel open to Wikipedia to ease my ignorance.
Consistent with the wonderful cover of the book, there is a love interest for Bernie in the book. She is Dr. Marianne Kramsta, a forensic specialist from Breslau in Silesia (now Wrocław in western Poland). Stepping off the plane in Smolensk, she catches Bernie’s attention:
“They’re legs,” she said. “A matching pair, last time I looked.”
“You say that like I was paying them too much attention.”
“Not in the least. If I see a nice pair of legs, then naturally I have to take a look at them. Darwin called it natural selection. You might have heard of that.”
“I should have listened to the pilot and put them safely away in a rifle case where they can’t do any harm.”
As I come to this book after finishing Grossman’s novel of Russia at war with Germany with a focus on Stalingrad and atrocities on both sides, I take comfort from the challenges in Gunther’s struggle for integrity and am moved by his frequent doubts over his success:
After almost twenty years in the Berlin police, I thought I knew all about corruption, but if you are not corrupt yourself, then I think you cannot ever know just how corrupt others can be in their pursuit of wealth and favor. I think then I must still have believed in things like honor and integrity and duty. Life had yet to teach me the hardest lesson of all, which is that in a corrupt world about the only thing you can rely on is corruption and then death and yet more corruption, and that honor and duty have little place in a world that has had a Hitler and a Stalin in it. ”
“Bernie Gunther isn't really a good man, but he tries to be a good cop and survive Nazi Germany. Strong setting and plot complement the fascinating characters Kerr creates.”jeannemarie1 wrote this review Thursday, June 20, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“fascinating, I'm learning so much about world history”Jane P wrote this review Tuesday, June 4, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Bernie returns to the Eastern Front. He was sent to investigate the reasons bodies of Polish Army Officers were found buried in the Katyn Forest. Bernie hopes to find evidence of Russian involvement (his German bosses are looking to bring this up at a war crimes panel). Bernie bunks down in an army unit that includes a group of Prussian Officers of noble decent while he investigates. There is a killer among this group who may be doing these murders because of the Katyn Forest killings or for some other reason. There is danger ahead for Bernie before he solves this.”Frances L wrote this review Friday, May 31, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“New Book, May 2013”Whitaker Library wrote this review Thursday, May 16, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Kerr consistently writes compelling stories; this one is no exception. The backdrop is the Katyn massacre, and the Nazis self-serving and cynical goal of using the massacre as a propaganda tool against the Soviets.
As always, the characters are so sharply drawn that it's hard to distinguish between those who area actual historical figures, and those who are Kerr's invention.
I cannot recommend this series enough for mystery readers, historians, and lovers of literature.”