The Lady from Zagreb


Hachette Australia RRP $29.99

It’s 1942 and Bernie Gunther, the wisecracking, Nazi-loathing detective continues to survive and maintain a passing acquaintance with his self-respect. The novel follows our German gumshoe through Berlin, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and back again, becoming involved with espionage, psychopathic ex-priests, murderers and movie stars, all while falling in love and trying to stay in Goebbel’s good books.

So far I had only read the first of the series, March Violets, (the next two novels The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem are waiting patiently on my book shelf) so I was very pleased to receive this review copy. It is a mark of Philip Kerr’s skill that in its eleventh book the series is still fresh, still saying interesting things about life on the German home front–a subject rarely touched upon in literature or film.

Through Bernie Gunther’s eyes we see his daily struggle to live in wartime Germany, hating everything the Nazis are doing to destroy his country and the soul of its people. The hypocrisy of his occupation as a police detective is not lost on him–to solve crimes in a political system which runs on crime. Along the way Bernie does the occasional kind deed, plays jokes at the expense of his masters and tries to remember that at a worst he is a decent man trying to get by in terrible times, and at best a Teutonic knight, albeit without a sword. The Lady from Zagreb is not a thriller and not really a detective story either. It moves at a reasonably slow pace and there are no real who-done-it moments and only a few action sections in the novel. This not a criticism, rather the opposite. The Kerr wonderfully used the hardboiled, gumshoe genre to tell a story of a seemingly ordinary and decent man trying to hold on to his humanity. Bernie Gunther is a more realistic hero than many fictional portrayals. The stench of Nazism has corroded his ethical framework a little, he does not have much hope left for the world but manages to keep a little for himself–that he will survive to enjoy quieter, or at least less horrific times. He is jaded but has not given up. He has learned to keep quiet and stay useful to those who would otherwise give him to the Gestapo.

Overall an tremendously enjoyable and thought provoking read, and good enough to whet you appetite for the next Bernie Gunther adventure coming out in 2016.

About Tim Hehir

Tim Hehir writes novels, short stories and plays. His YA novel Julius and the Watchmaker is published by Text Publishing.
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