Fresh from school in June 1916, Lieutenant Oliver Paxton's first solo flight is to lead a formation of biplanes across the Channel to join Hornet Squadron in France.
Five days later, he crash-lands at his destination, having lost his map, his ballast and every single plane in his charge. To his C.O. he's an idiot, to everyone else - especially the tormenting Australian who shares his billet - a pompous bastard.
This is 1916, the year of the Somme, giving Paxton precious little time to grow from innocent to veteran.
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.