The Devil’s Breath

Written by Tom Hogan
Review by Cindy Vallar

Gold. The precious element, extracted from the dead, is vital to the Germans, but some is siphoned into the pockets of Auschwitz’s Kommandant Höss and Reichsführer Himmler. After the chief accountant is murdered and the gold and secret ledger vanish, Höss faces an inevitable deadline: Himmler arrives in seven days to collect his share. With his career at stake, and possibly his life, Höss needs someone with special skills to find the murderer and recover the missing items. Finding no one among his own people, he turns to those imprisoned in Auschwitz.

Forced to surrender before the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto, Shimon and Perla Divko have lived separate lives since stepping off the train that brought them to Auschwitz in 1943. Each precious day reinforces their determination to survive, but forced collaboration with their captors ensures that death is inevitable. As a former chief detective and investigative reporter, they possess the necessary training to solve the mystery, but no Nazi will condescend to talk to Untermensch. Helmut Graf, a postal inspector, takes charge of the investigation and together they learn not only about the inner workings of Auschwitz but also its netherworld. Following the clues opens unexpected doors that reveal unexpected ramifications.

Hogan subtly entwines history, mystery, and fiction to peel back the layers of life within this vast complex of concentration and extermination camps. Intervals of backstory are well-done but, at times, interrupt the story’s flow even as they reveal meaningful insights into the characters. His depiction of this world from the perspectives of those in charge and those interred or imprisoned pulls no punches and provides unique and fresh comparisons that are easily grasped. The Devil’s Breath is a haunting tale of love, hope, survival, and sacrifice intermingled with the vile cruelty of war.