Nancy McKibben's Reviews > A Man Without Breath

A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr
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bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery, world-war-2, suspense, reviewed

A Man Without Breath
By Philip Kerr

What could be more noir than a detective series set in Europe during World War II? How about one set in Berlin with a German police detective during World War II? Anti-Nazi himself, Bernie Gunther is the hero of this series of nine books.His expertise is repeatedly sought out by Nazi higher-ups, and the unfortunate Bernie is faced again and again with finding a way to stay alive and still live with himself.

In 1943, Gunther is working for the Wehrmacht, tasked with investigating war crimes. The irony is not lost on Gunther, but at least the position allows him to proceed honestly, even if prosecuting a German soldier for killing a fellow soldier pales proportionately in light of the atrocities the German high command is busy inflicting on European Jews.

This time Goebbels himself recruits Gunther to investigate whether the Russians indeed massacred and buried 14,500 Polish soldiers and officers in the Katyn Forest. If Gunther can prove it, Germany will be able to embarrass the Russians, make their own war crimes look less heinous and perhaps discredit the Russians in the eyes of the Allies.

This curious investigation is an historical event. Germany asked the neutral countries to send forensics experts to Smolensk to help exhume and identify the corpses over a period of weeks. So it is our fictional Gunther who is leading this investigation for Goebbels, a man whose deeds Gunther detests, even as he is horrified to find that Goebbels is charming in person. In the course of the Katyn investigation, another killer pops up, and Gunther must once again examine his exhausted conscience for direction in a moral dilemma.

Kerr is a master of historical fiction of this era. The interplay between the Germans and Russians - called “Ivans” by the Germans and worse by the Nazis, who considered Slavs on a level with gypsies and Jews - is fascinating. The novel also highlights the number of assassination plots carried out against Hitler - it is amazing that he survived - and the growing disillusionment of the German army after the defeat at Stalingrad.

A Man Without Breath is both an an entertaining detective story and an unflinching examination of this dark period of modern history.
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Reading Progress

August 1, 2013 – Started Reading
August 2, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: mystery
August 4, 2013 – Shelved
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: world-war-2
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: suspense
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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