I am a big fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series, and A Man Without Breath is an excellent addition to the series. Bernie Gunther would like to be an ordinary criminal investigator, but the Nazi regime and World War II make that impossible. No one is untainted in Bernie Gunther’s world, but Philip Kerr still manages to present Gunther as a sympathetic character — hard-bitten with just a little bit of idealism left in him. Humphrey Bogart would have played him very well.
This time Gunther finds himself in on the Eastern Front on an errand for Joseph Goebbels. It is the Spring of 1943, and a lot of Germans have begun to realize the war may not end well for them. Their frantic maneuvering doesn’t preclude still more atrocities, but it does muddy the waters for Gunther, who would really just like to solve his crimes and go home to Berlin. There is a plethora of interesting historical detail, particularly with respect to the NKVD’s own atrocities and the growing interest on the part of certain aristocrats in assassinating Hitler. It is a grim story, but the characters, plot and setting are really interesting. Kerr adds some Casablanca-like repartee, a little romance and an excellent sense of the absurd to make this a really good novel.