This latest installment in the Bernie Gunther series finds the former Berlin detective doing well in 1950s Cuba, that is, until he is taken into custody by American authorities and forced to face possible war crimes from his past. This leads Bernie back to a now-divided Germany and into a world of Cold War plots and counterplots, agents and double crosses. Not that any of this is exactly new to him, as surviving his years working for the Nazis can attest. Ultimately, with his very life in the balance, he must face a criminal who has eluded him throughout his career. To succeed, Bernie must confront the difficult choices he made in the past to survive, and relearn the skills that brought him through with just a shred of the self-esteem still left to him.
As the Bernie Gunther has series grown to attract legions of fans and capture several awards, so has the author’s power to deliver a thought-provoking, informative, yet utterly suspenseful and moving account. A hallmark of the series has been Kerr’s ability to display, through his hard-bitten detective, the moral ambiguity which boiled just beneath the surface of the oft-portrayed black and white of the World War II and Cold War eras. This ambiguity is borne out though some outstanding historical research, whether it be the questionable role of the Allies’ intelligence services, the stark brutality of the Soviet regime, or the shortcomings of a justice system trying to come to terms with the immense crimes of the Nazi’s, often only to surrender to the demands of Realpolitik. Indeed, we come to see the Field Gray of Bernie’s old SS uniform as a metaphor for the moral gray areas in which citizens of many nations lived through the mid 20th century. Highly recommended.