A Man Without Breath
A Bernie Gunther Novel
From the national bestselling author of Prague Fatale, a powerful new thriller that returns Bernie Gunther, our sardonic Berlin cop, to the Eastern Front.
Berlin, March, 1943. A month has passed since the stunning defeat at Stalingrad. Though Hitler insists Germany is winning the war, commanders on the ground know better. Morale is low, discipline at risk. Now word has reached Berlin of a Red massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. If true, the message it would send to the troops is clear: Fight on or risk certain death. For once, both the Wehrmacht and Propaganda Minister Goebbels want the same thing: irrefutable evidence of this Russian atrocity. To the Wehrmacht, such proof will soften the reality of its own war crimes in the eyes of the victors. For Goebbels, such proof could turn the tide of war by destroying the Alliance, cutting Russia off from its western supply lines.
Both parties agree that the ensuing investigation must be overseen by a professional trained in sifting evidence and interrogating witnesses. Anything that smells of incompetence or tampering will defeat their purposes. And so Bernie Gunther is dispatched to Smolensk, where truth is as much a victim of war as those poor dead Polish officers.
Smolensk, March, 1943. Army Group Center is an enclave of Prussian aristocrats who have owned the Wehrmacht almost as long as they’ve owned their baronial estates, an officer class whose families have been intermarrying for generations. The wisecracking, rough-edged Gunther is not a good fit. He is, after all, a Berlin bull. But he has a far bigger concern than sharp elbows and supercilious stares, for somewhere in this mix is a cunning and savage killer who has left a trail of bloody victims.
This is no psycho case. This is a man with motive enough to kill and skills enough to leave no trace of himself. Bad luck that in this war zone, such skills are two-a-penny. Somehow Bernie must put a face to this killer before he puts an end to Bernie.
Set in the spring of 1943, Kerr's captivating ninth Bernie Gunther novel (after 2011's Prague Fatale) takes Gunther now attached to the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau from Berlin to Smolensk, to investigate mass graves of Polish officers discovered in the nearby Katyn forest. Josef Goebbels, seeking a propaganda coup after Germany's Stalingrad defeat, is keen to pin the atrocity on the Soviets. The tormented honest cop also gets on the trail of a killer targeting German soldiers, even as he finds himself in an anomalous moral position ("a situation in which you can have an army corporal hanged for the rape and murder of a Russian peasant girl in one village that's only a few miles from another village where an SS special action group has just murdered twenty-five thousand men, women and children"). Kerr makes everything look easy, from blending history with a clever and intricate whodunit plot to powerful descriptions of cruelty.
As usual good read
Fascinating riff on real historical facts and characters had me flipping back and forth with Wickipedia to see if truth really was stranger than fiction
A man out of breath
I have read all the Bernie novels and truly enjoyed them, but this was not good, too long and boring. Kerr may have gone a book too far. I hope not Bernie is a great character.