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A Man Without Breath : A Bernie Gunther Novel (2013)


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Published: New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, c2013
Description:  465 p. ; 24 cm
ISBN/ISSN: 9780399160790 (hbk.), 0399160795 (hbk.),
Language:  English

"A Marian Wood book."

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 risk certain death. For once, both the Wehrmacht and Propaganda Minister Goebbels want the same thing: irrefutable evidence of this Russian atrocity. To the Wehrmacht, such proof will soften the reality of its own war crimes in the eyes of the victors. For Goebbels, such proof could turn the tide of war by destroying the Alliance, cutting Russia off from its western supply lines. Both parties agree that the ensuing investigation must be overseen by a professional trained in sifting evidence and interrogating witnesses. Anything that smells of incompetence or tampering will defeat their purposes. And so Bernie Gunther is dispatched to Smolensk, where truth is as much a victim of war as those poor dead Polish officers. Smolensk, March, 1943. Army Group Center is an enclave of Prussian aristocrats who have owned the Wehrmacht almost as long as they have owned their baronial estates, an officer class whose families have been intermarrying for generations. The wisecracking, rough-edged Gunther is not a good fit. He is, after all, a Berlin bull. But he has a far bigger concern than sharp elbows and supercilious stares, for somewhere in this mix is a cunning and savage killer who has left a trail of bloody victims. This is no psycho case. This is a man with motive enough to kill and skills enough to leave no trace of himself. Bad luck that in this war zone, such skills are two-a-penny. Somehow Bernie must put a face to this killer before he puts an end to Bernie

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A Man Without Breath: a Bernie Gunther Novel

Winnie the Pooh is not the only character that got his nose caught in the honey jar. Take the background story of Bernie Gunther - before the war started, he was a highly respected homicide investigator in Berlin. Once the Nazis took control, Bernie had to swallow his pride and political beliefs in order to survive. His comfort level went from a possible 10 to well below zero.

Gunther's goal became to stay below the radar of the maniacal regime that was slowly destroying his world. He was forced to wear a uniform and become part of the military machine. He went from being the "Berlin Bull" to the "Wehrmacht Wimp."

In March of 1943, the Wehrmacht High Command sends their prized criminal investigator to Smolensk to verify if thousands of Polish officers were executed and buried in a frozen field. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, smells a possible public relations coup. If Goebbels can get proof that the Russians mass-murdered thousands of defenseless enemy officers, the world's spotlight, fixed on the Nazi nation's atrocities, will dim drastically.

The last thing that Gunther wants is to be anywhere near the spotlight.  He has positioned himself well offstage and only wants his world back - as it once was. When he lands in Smolensk, no one is happy to see him...not the Germans in command of the invasion force, nor the Russians aiding them.  Even the Gestapo resents an "outsider" being assigned to investigate a matter that appears to have no major consequence in the Fatherland conquering Mother Russia.

Resentment leads to murder and cover-up. Gunther is forced to make some difficult decisions to remain breathing; however, he finds time to fall hopelessly in love with one of the forensic team sent to aid his investigation. . .but even that small prize has its steep price tag.   

Philip Kerr has written several books in this series.  It is not important to read them in order, since the outcome of WWII is well documented.  The writing is rich and the characters are complex.  If historical fiction is what you are looking for and you haven't tried Kerr yet, it is well worth the experience.

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