The Kaiser’s Last Kiss

Written by Alan Judd
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

“The Kaiser was chopping logs.” So begins and ends the arc of this fast-paced narrative which takes place in 1940 at Huis Doorn, the Dutch palace where the Kaiser is exiled by the German government under Adolf Hitler. The Wehrmacht has invaded Holland, and now the emperor must confront the soldiers milling around his lodge. Our attention shifts to SS Untersturmführer Martin Krebbs, who is put in charge of the Kaiser until the German government decides what to do with its former monarch. The Third Reich entertains suspicions that the Kaiser is sympathetic to England, where he spent his childhood, and that he may be kidnapped and taken to England. Under Krebbs, the SS monitors the house and grounds for signs of British sympathizers and their agents. Enter the Jewish maid Akki, for whom Krebbs develops an irresistible fascination. In time, their liaison leads him to question his faith in Nazism. With a dinner visit from Himmler, the royal household is jolted out of its isolated complacency into a web of suspicion that could endanger all their lives.

This novel is a page-turner from the moment Himmler enters the household, threatening the Kaiser’s fragile state of mind. The twists and turns are unpredictable, since we wonder if Krebbs and Akki, from two disparate worlds, will survive the unrelenting Nazi scrutiny. How will they guard the Kaiser they are supposed to be protecting? Judd’s characters are examples of paradox, in that each one is neither all good nor all bad, merely figures clinging to their moral values, which shift on occasion. This is a novel that bears reading carefully, savoring the historical detail and the use of tension that Judd employs.