It's 1917, and Captain Stanley Woolley joins an R.F.C. squadron whose pilots are starting to fear the worst: their war over the Western Front may go on for years. A pilot's life is usually short, so while it lasts it is celebrated strenuously.
Distractions from the brutality of the air war include British nurses; eccentric Russian pilots; bureaucratic battles over the plum-jam ration; rat-hunting with Very pistols; and the C.O.'s patent, potent cocktail, known as 'Hornet's Sting'.
But as the summer offensives boil up, none of these can offer any lasting comfort.
Kerr's stellar eighth Bernie Gunther novel (after 2011's Field Gray) takes the Berlin cop to Prague in October 1941, to investigate the murder of an adjutant of feared SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, who's just become the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. The morning after a drunken party attended by SS officers at Heydrich's country estate outside Prague, the adjutant, who was shaken by what he witnessed as part of a Nazi death squad in Latvia, is found dead in a locked guestroom. Heydrich wants Gunther, suicidal himself after similar experiences in Russia, to find the adjutant's killer fast, but how is one to identify the culprit amid a house full of professional murderers? A subplot involving the death of a foreigner run over by a train and Czech nationalists dovetails with a surprising denouement worthy of Agatha Christie. Kerr effectively works dark humor into Gunther's weary narration, and the ending packs the wicked bite his readers have come to anticipate.