Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Review of The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2015)
The Lady from Zagreb is the tenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. Many of the books have intersecting characters and plotlines and span a number of years and places. This book is no different, spanning 1942 to 1956, but mainly focusing on 1942-1943, and includes a number of re-occurring real-life characters such as Arthur Nebe, Joseph Goebbels, and Friedrich Minoux, along with fictional characters such as Bernie’s wife, Kirsten. The tale picks up after Prague Fatale and spans The Man Without Breath. The strength and the real joy of the series is the character of Bernie Gunther, a world weary, sarcastic, caustic, anti-Nazi, who stumbles through life with bombast, luck, cynicism and bloody-mindedness, surviving mainly because he's useful. Bernie is in fine form in The Lady from Zagreb, investigating two cases that both have Swiss connections, and one of which involves an excursion into the confused killing fields of Croatia. The plot is somewhat rambling, and it’s fair to say that there is quite a bit going on between the two cases, and for good measure Kerr drops all kinds of other small vignettes into the story. Moreover, there are a couple of somewhat clunky plot devices and whilst it is not necessary, an understanding of how the other books situate the fractured timeline is helpful. That said, Kerr manages to keep the story together and coherent and the pages turning. And as usual, there is a strong historicization and sense of time and place. The result is an engaging and disturbing tale of lust, corruption, mass murder, and surviving in a society that has lost its moral compass. An interesting addition to Bernie’s unfolding biography.