In the prior book A Man Without Breath (Putnam, $25.00) Bernie was sent by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda to the Katyn Forest in Russia to investigate the buried bodies discovered by the German army. Bernie quickly concluded along with International Red Cross that Stalin ordered the execution of Polish officers who might hinder him imposing Communism on Poland once Russian won the war. In the process Bernie solves a murder, learns how the government lied about the commencement of the war, and gets involved with the nasty politics of the Third Reich.
In Lady Goebbels again calls upon Bernie, as his trouble-shooter. The propaganda minister is also head of German film industry and has had many dalliances with beautiful actresses, who star in his films or want to star in one. Dalia, his favorite is originally from Serbia and now wants to go to Zurich with her rich husband, quit making movies, and go to university to study mathematics. Some girl, huh?
Before Bernie assumes his role as errand boy for the Nazi state, which he abhors, Kerr tosses in a murder in Berlin which he leaves dangling. The reader guesses ol’ Bern will solve it and tie it all together. And Kerr does.
Bernie’s job is first to find Dalia’s father, who she supposedly misses despite having not seen him for fifteen years, and bring him to her, which might help her decide to stay in Germany. It’s fairly clear Goebbels is smitten with the beautiful woman. When Bernie goes to her house and finds her sunning in her yard in the nude he is smitten also.
Serbia in what was then Yugoslavia is a cauldron that makes Russia look like a picnic. Bernie makes it there after many close encounters with Fascists and Communists battling for control of the country, competing to see who can be more brutal. After he finds Dalia’s father he decides to tell her the man is dead—the guy’s hobby is decapitating his political enemies and running a nasty concentration camp. Goebbels is pleased with Bernie’ work and agrees to keep the details form the actress.
In love with Dalia, Bernie drives her to Zurich on another mission for the high command of the army. Kerr adroitly weaves in a story about Switzerland trying to maintain neutrality and Hitler’s desire to invade another country he hates. Bernie must fight off SS men eager to abort his mission and dodge the Swiss police, unhappy with the presence of a Nazi spy.
It’s complicated. And we discover that some people, even some good guys have lied too. Including the lovely Dalia. Indeed, by the time we get to the end everybody has something to conceal.
When another murder intrudes, Bernie shows off his skill as a detective. In the end he must decide whether to solve the murder, save Switzerland, or flee with Dalia, but can’t do it all. It’s a masterful plot. Reminds me of Casablanca. Anyone who likes historical thrillers will be engrossed.
I found one historical error—Dresden was not bombed in 1943 when the book is set, but in 1945 only weeks before the war ended, killing 40,000 people needlessly. Truly a tragedy. Equally sad is the melancholy ending, which I won’t divulge. True love isn’t always successful. Neither is politics or war.