The Lady from Zagreb: A Bernie Gunther Novel

Written by Philip Kerr
Review by Lucille Cormier

This is Philip Kerr’s 10th Bernie Gunther detective novel set in Nazi-era Germany. Like the nine before it, The Lady from Zagreb is outstanding historical fiction.

The story begins in the summer of 1943. Former Berlin homicide detective Gunther now investigates crime for the SS – the irony of which he fully appreciates. But his police skills are sent in another direction this time as he is commandeered to run a personal “errand” for propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels’ favorite starlet, the stunning lady from Zagreb, Dalia Dresner, cannot perform – so anxious is she over her missing father. Bernie is sent to Croatia to find the man and bring him back if he can. The mission leads him to the concentration camp of Jasenovsac. The sadistic horror of the place sets the tone for the treachery to follow – a game of thrones where Nazi elites, American spymasters, and Swiss officials use every means available, including pawns like Gunther, to bring about their own versions of the war’s outcome.

It takes Gunther some time to get through the layers of deceit to see what’s actually going on. But one of his most surprising discoveries is that he is in love. It’s an impossible romance, but – there it is. He becomes a man with one good thing in his life and he risks everything to preserve it. And that brings the story to an end – which I won’t spoil.

The Lady from Zagreb is at times hard to read. Bernie’s cynicism can get to you after a while. Still, the story is funny in places and very human. The author’s similes are hilarious, as in: “smooth as an English butler’s silk underwear,” and “butler with a face like a melted elephant.” Kerr’s historical acumen and storytelling skill make for a thoroughly worthwhile read. Definitely a go.