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A Man Without Breath

(Bernie Gunther #9)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  4,673 ratings  ·  428 reviews
Berlin, March, 1943. A month has passed since the stunning defeat at Stalingrad. Though Hitler insists Germany is winning the war, commanders on the ground know better. Morale is low, discipline at risk. Now word has reached Berlin of a Red massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. If true, the message it would send to the troops is clear: Fight on or ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Marian Wood Book (first published March 13th 2013)
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A great fix for my addiction to this noir detective series featuring Bernie Gunther trying to forge some justice within Nazi Germany during the war. In my mind, noir fiction typically involves a cynical hero up against pervasive corruption that almost has a life of its own, almost to the point of evil become a force like in literature with magical realism. The detective is like a doctor who prescribes a healthier dose of reality, bringing evil down to a more human scale of simple greed and corru ...more
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Let Me Edit This Book!

I saw the latest Philip Kerr offering in a bookshop and bought it straightaway. His Bernie Gunther series is very good indeed, particularly the first three novels released as “Berlin Noir” and he has resurrected the series, set in and around the period of World War 2 Germany.

However, the later novels have had ups-and-downs, as Kerr squeezes the sponge dry, and this latest book is particularly uneven, following the ropey Prague Fatale and the outstanding Field Grey.

It start
Rob Kitchin
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I’m a great fan of the Bernie Gunther series. I’ve read all nine books, buying the last few in the first weeks of release. A Man Without Breath is a solid enough addition to Bernie’s story, though it is by no means Kerr’s best work. Kerr writes with a very strong and engaging hardboiled voice. His characters are vivid, the historical and social contextualisation and sense of place are excellent. And so it is with A Man Without Breath. There are three issues with the story, however, that undermin ...more
Aaron Kent
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
Like I've said before, these are a guilty pleasure of the highest quality, so managing to get my hands on an advance reading copy is kind of the equivalent of Bernie Gunther getting some good smokes or booze while stationed near the russian front during WWII. If you like detective fiction and WWII, it gets no better than the Bernie Gunther novels.
Nick Davies
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I really enjoyed this. Despite knowing already a little of the history of the Katyn Massacre upon which this novel is based, this didn't spoil for me an involving and tense crime thriller set in Nazi-occupied Eastern Front territory in the early 1940s. A lot of this was due to the likeably witty and gritty central protagonist - sharp and smart like some of my favourite police detectives in other series' (but never becoming irritatingly wise-ass).

It's a compelling read, I thought - the right mix
Dec 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this, the ninth instalment of the highly addictive and engrossing Bernie Gunther series, it is 1943 and a month after the Wehrmacht’s surrender at Stalingrad.

At the behest of an old friend Bernie is working in the Wehrmacht’s War Crimes Bureau. Unsurprisingly the bureau has nothing to do with crimes against civilians or POWs. Word has reached Berlin of mass graves in the Smolensk region: Polish army officers bound, shot, and buried in the Katyn Forest. If the War Crimes Bureau can prove defi
Karl Jorgenson
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kerr is hitting on all cylinders here. Bernie is sent to the Katyn Forest to document the murder of thousands of Polish officers by Stalin's NKVD, the purpose being to create a propaganda victory that will drive a wedge between the Polish government in exile and the USSR, and wishfully make the U.S. reconsider its alliance with Stalin. Bernie encounters other contemporary murders--are they related to the discovery of the mass graves? Beautiful history, memorable characters, and a clever mystery. ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Yet another excellent Gunther novel by Philip Kerr who deftly crafts his novel around the infamous Katyn Woods massacre.

1943, near Smolensk, Russia. Bernie Gunther is supervising the excavation of the burial site where thousands of polish officers were shot to death by the NKVD in 1940.

When two german soldiers are found dead with their throats cut Gunther finds his old policeman's reflexes back and starts to investigate. What he'll discover will be much bigger than he thought.

Lots of characters
Much to my regret, Philip Kerr is falling into the trap of formula writing. This is not surprising, seeing that a new Bernie book is whipped out every year. Nevertheless, I hate to see it, as I am not a big thriller reader, but always loved the Bernie books. While 'Field Grey' was still an excellent read, 'Prague Fatal' was quite unrealistic and over the top and lacked the usual Bernie wise-cracks. In essence, Bernie investigating the notorious Katyn Massacre in 'A Man without Breath' could have ...more
Mark Walker
May 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Not one of the best in this series. An over complicated plot, and some lazy characterisation. There could have been a good book which had the backdrop of the use of propaganda during the war. Using the backdrop of the Katyn murders makes the events of this book look silly and trivial by comparison. The author was keen to use the Katyn murders as the backdrop to one of these books but sadly it stylistically isn't like a Gunther book.
There are just too many characters and sub plots. And the theme
Maine Colonial
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Bernie Gunther, former Berlin homicide cop, is now an investigator for the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau. Bernie, with all the cynicism of a Berliner, is keenly aware of the absurdity of the agency's practice of turning a blind eye to the systematic torture and murder of Jews, Gypsies, communists, Slavs, homosexuals and other designated enemies, while preserving German honor by investigating and punishing one-off criminal acts.

Bernie is sent to Smolensk, then precariously held by the Germans, when
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical novels
Recommended to Mark by: the earlier books by Phillip Kerr
The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. This is the real historical background where Bernie Gunther in his 9th book gets anchored in the real world.

Bernie Gunther works in this book for the Warcrimes bureau, now there was a surprise to me as I never expected such an organisation in Nazi Germany in 1943.
Gunther gets sen
Ronald Roseborough
If you think it's hard for a detective to find a killer today in a city like New York or Los Angeles, imagine what it would be like for an investigator in the German Army in the middle of World War II deep in Nazi occupied Russia. A large portion of the German Army has been crushed by Russian troops at Stalingrad. Tens of thousands are dying on both sides of the war as Bernie Gunther, ex-cop from Berlin, now working for the Army, is called in to investigate the mass murder of over 4,000 Polish o ...more
Steven Z.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Philip Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther novel, A MAN WITHOUT BREATH is set in the Smolensk region of the Soviet Union in the spring of 1943. The ninth in the Gunther series the story involves the usual twists and turns of Kerr’s approach to the World War II noir, this time using the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in 1940 at the Katyn Forest as background. Kerr weaves in the NKVD, Abwehr, and German SD. Many of the characters are historical figures such as Joseph Goebbels and Admiral Wilhelm Cana ...more
Harry Heitman
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Terrific World War II historical noir. Bernie is a great storyteller and his persona just gets stronger as this series continues. Great writing by the late, great Philip Kerr.
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It really does go without saying that this is another quite superb novel from the man who can't put a foot, or a word, wrong. The plot is of course superb, but maybe less obviously so than the incomparable Field Grey partly because it is to do a different job.

The Katyn massacre was a "they did it!""No, we did it!" tennis ball hit back and forth from the Second World War onwards, until the...well, let's just say until the fall of the Berlin Wall, shall we? Bernie Gunther's depression brought-on i
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
RIP Philip Kerr.

A few years ago, my wife and I returned from our honeymoon in Berlin and I discovered the Berlin Noir trilogy. I binged on it and all of Kerr's Bernard Gunther books up to that point, enjoying them at first but eventually getting burnt out of the repetitious coincidences and damsels in distress. The last one I read, Prague Fatale, was probably his best up to that point because it was self-contained instead of spanning decades. Nevertheless, I got a job and discovered other write
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m a big fan of the Bernie Gunther series, it’s been awhile since I have read one of these books, “A Man Without Breath” is right in the middle of the overall saga it takes place just as the winds of war are turning against the Germans. Being a Bernie Gunther story it’s a classic hard-boiled novel this one having a larger body count than normal, the old school tough detective is placed on the Russian Front in Smolensk just a couple of months before the battle of Kursk. Bernie is investigating t ...more
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another masterpiece from Kerr. I came away from this book feeling that it was probably one of the least "heavy" books in the series. Upon reflection, there is absolutely no reason for that given the setting (Smolensk), the plot (investigating a mass murder of Polish prisoners of war) and the background (from a conscripted German policeman's perspective in Germany during WWII).

There is also an interesting subplot around the displaced German aristocracy's role in fomenting the rise of National So
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love a book that is entertaining, but also informative. Set in World War II, Kerr's work is at times more historical fiction, than murder mystery. In this installment, Detective Gunther works for the German War Crimes Bureau and is sent on a jaunt to Smolensk, Russia. True to WWII this book has a record number of murders that Gunther has to solve. This is the first Bernie Gunther book I've read in the series--and it did not require a prerequisite reading of Kerr's prior novels. (Those just got ...more
A Man Called Ove
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great blend of historical fiction and crime fiction. 5/5 for the setting and the rare unknown yet crucial bits of history the author made me aware of. His knowledge of Nazi Germany and WW2 is amazing.
3/5 for the mystery which was decent but ended abruptly and unsatisfyingly. Also felt there was little scope of playing detective for the reader.
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
It takes some time to get used to Kerr's style. The abundance of similes and the wisecrack can be tiring at times. On the other hand, the setting is fairly unique and captivating.
I consider 'A man without breath' to be one of his better works.
May 21, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm so nuts about Kerr's Bernie Gunther series that I generally order them as soon as they're published in the UK (where they're often available months before they're sold in the US)and though I thoroughly enjoyed this 9th book in the series, I thought its seams were showing a bit too much.

Gunther is a Berlin detective who--during the course of WWII--reluctantly becomes an officer in the SD (and later the SS)without ever having joined the Nazi party. Gunther despises the regime, but goes along w
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Hard to decide which is better - the history or the mystery. It's 1943 and things are not going well for the German army. Things in Russia are bad and looking to get worse when Bernie Gunther is sent to Smolensk to do a PR job for Joseph Goebbels. There are rumors of a Russian massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, and Goebbels thinks that it could offset the tales of Nazi war crimes if the Russians could be proven to have committed atrocities too. If the Allies cut off their support t ...more
Thomas Joseph
Apr 27, 2013 rated it liked it
I've read all of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels. I have always enjoyed their well thought out plots and historical context. I also enjoy the Gunther character's tough guy personna. Unfortunately, this book seems to be prematurely concluded. The first two thirds of the book is engaging, weaving the plot around the Katyn Wood massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD. However, Kerr suddenly diverges from the original story direction by throwing in a useless love affair, in the middle of ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Man, these 'Bernie Gunther' mysteries just never get old! In fact--as hard as it may be to believe--I think Kerr's writing, plotting, character development, and incorporation of historical events and personalities just gets better and better.

This book largely takes place on the Eastern Front in 1943 near the German-occupied Russian city of Smolensk, and revolves around the "Katyn Wood Massacre". This is a gripping and horrific tale from start to finish!
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-books-read
Bernie Gunther doesn't time-travel in A Man Without Breath. He spends the entire book trying to unearth the Katyn Wood massacre site, and walks in on several murders he needs to solve. In the process, Bernie almost takes his last breath.
I am amazed at the geographic, historical, military and cultural detail of the author and novel - right down to the uniforms. But that's what makes the reader feel he or she is right there, helping solve the crime.
Jul 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
Gunther gets sent to Smolensk in this 1943 -set novel. As a Berlin detective with a reasonably intact moral compass, he is always fascinating to tag along with, even though supervising the excavation of a mass grave of Polish officers executed by the Russians as a propaganda exercise to drive a wedge between the Allies is not the most promising outlet for his talents. In the course of his investigations, Gunther commits an uncharacteristic brutal act, which seems to have enraged many readers who ...more
James Aura
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another in the series of the late Philip Kerr's atmospheric historical mysteries set during the days of WWII in Germany, Russia and other locations as well. One of the darker episodes so far, and as usual, a compelling page turner. The narrator Bernie Gunther predictably winds up being caught between doing the right thing and a requirement by his higher-up who would not hesitate to fling him into prison, or worse, if he does not cooperate.
Roberta Von Arx

The plot is good. Historical canvas interesting (one of a few novels depicting nazi Germany "from the inside", so to speak).
The characters, even though initially intriguing, soon turn into a poor imitation of a Dashiell Hammett novel, complete with doomed love story with the standard issue blonde...
The lengthy sarcastic replies the main character delivers at every turn make you think you're in a (counterfeit) Bogey movie, or a James Bond. There is even the hero rescue at the last m
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Philip Kerr was a British author. He was best known for his Bernie Gunther series of 13 historical thrillers and a children's series, Children of the Lamp, under the name P.B. Kerr.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Other books in the series

Bernie Gunther (1 - 10 of 14 books)
  • March Violets (Bernie Gunther, #1)
  • The Pale Criminal (Bernie Gunther, #2)
  • A German Requiem (Bernie Gunther, #3)
  • The One from the Other (Bernard Gunther, #4)
  • A Quiet Flame (Bernie Gunther, #5)
  • If The Dead Rise Not (Bernard Gunther, #6)
  • Field Gray (Bernard Gunther, #7)
  • Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther, #8)
  • The Lady from Zagreb (Bernard Gunther, #10)
  • The Other Side of Silence (Bernie Gunther, #11)

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