A Man Without Breath (Bernie Gunther Series #9)

( 21 )

Overview

From the national bestselling author of Prague Fatale, a powerful new thriller that returns Bernie Gunther, our sardonic Berlin cop, to the Eastern Front.
 
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 ...

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A Man Without Breath (Bernie Gunther Series #9)

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Overview

From the national bestselling author of Prague Fatale, a powerful new thriller that returns Bernie Gunther, our sardonic Berlin cop, to the Eastern Front.
 
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’ve 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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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
Kerr's sardonic vision always encompasses wry humor, even amid the horrors of war.
Publishers Weekly
Set in the spring of 1943, Kerr’s captivating ninth Bernie Gunther novel (after 2011’s Prague Fatale) takes Gunther—now attached to the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau—from Berlin to Smolensk, to investigate mass graves of Polish officers discovered in the nearby Katyn forest. Josef Goebbels, seeking a propaganda coup after Germany’s Stalingrad defeat, is keen to pin the atrocity on the Soviets. The tormented honest cop also gets on the trail of a killer targeting German soldiers, even as he finds himself in an anomalous moral position (“a situation in which you can have an army corporal hanged for the rape and murder of a Russian peasant girl in one village that’s only a few miles from another village where an SS special action group has just murdered twenty-five thousand men, women and children”). Kerr makes everything look easy, from blending history with a clever and intricate whodunit plot to powerful descriptions of cruelty. Agent: Caradoc King, A.P. Watt (U.K.). (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Kerr (Field Gray, 2011, etc.) offers his eighth Bernie Gunther mystery. It is 1943. Stalingrad has gutted Hitler's Wehrmacht, but the Nazi plague infecting the East rages on. Gunther, formerly commissar at Berlin Police Praesidium, has been drafted into the German war effort as an investigator in the army's War Crimes Bureau. Jaded and cynical, sardonic and impudent, Gunther is no Nazi sympathizer. He understands he's to uncover only war crimes that might be used as German propaganda. There come reports of possible mass graves at Smolensk, and Gunther is sent to investigate. Propaganda minister Goebbels wants confirmation that mass graves are in Smolensk's Katyn Wood, and he wants responsibility laid on the Russian NKVD. Kerr's sketch of Goebbels dazzles. The author pulls the reader down into the dark underground of Der Führer's rabbit hole of totalitarian horror. While supervising the exhumations, Gunther stumbles upon a plan by the Wehrmacht's aristocratic Prussian Junker leadership to assassinate Hitler. Kerr examines the brutality of the Eastern Front war, the German attempt to wipe out the Jewish population, the Russian partisans' terror tactics focused on the occupiers, the Gestapo's retribution against innocents, and the racial and ethnic conflicts resolved by barbarity. Kerr masterfully explores morality's shadowy gray edge.
Library Journal
When Bernie Gunther, a former Berlin detective now working for the War Crimes Bureau in Nazi Germany, is sent to investigate a possible mass grave site near Smolensk, Russia, in March 1943, he soon finds that nothing is straightforward. Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, is pressuring him to help Nazi public relations by finding evidence of Soviet atrocities against Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, but when several Germans are viciously murdered Bernie believes a German is responsible. Bernie's bosses are Prussian aristocrats who close ranks against a cynical, sarcastic investigator opposed to the Nazi regime and driven to seek the truth regardless of political considerations. VERDICT This ninth Bernie Gunther tale (after Prague Fatale) focuses on two months of 1943, mixing real-life characters with fictional ones. Kerr's historical knowledge and writing skills merge these elements seamlessly in a gripping story of murder, but it is Bernie who holds it all together even as he questions the absurdity of attempting normalcy during war. Mystery, historical fiction, and military history buffs will join existing Bernie fans in welcoming this latest installment in the series.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
The Barnes & Noble Review

Philip Kerr's A Man Without Breath spans just three months in the spring of 1943 yet includes some of the most dramatic events of the Second World War. The German defeat at Stalingrad; the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler; the Russian massacre of more than 14,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest: these are weighty matters to graft onto the slim armature of a crime novel. But Kerr is an old hand at this. A Man Without Breath is, after all, the ninth installment in his wartime Bernie Gunther series, and from the first, March Violets, it was clear that he could blend formidable historical research and keen political insight to produce thrilling fiction.

Kerr is also an acute satirist. Throughout the series, employing Gunther's sardonic gaze, he portrays the chief architects of Nazi Germany and their underlings in all their brutality, venality, and shabbiness."[T]hat's the trouble with dyed-in-the-wool Nazis," Gunther observes, for instance, of a zealous Gestapo agent, "stupidity, ignorance, and prejudice always get in the way of them seeing the bigger picture. But for that they might be impossible to deal with."

As a Berlin police detective, Gunther has dealings with Heydrich, Goebbels, and other Reich leaders who are often the objects of his most caustic wit. By 1943, however, even that wit is subdued. There are fewer wisecracks in A Man Without Breath, a novel that from the outset exudes an air of exhaustion and defeat. "[W]e're pretending that there's law and order and something worth fighting for," Gunther shouts at a Wehrmacht officer. "But there isn't. Not now. There's just insanity and chaos and slaughter and maybe something worse that's yet to come."

Following the defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943 and the Russian advance westward, the likelihood of an Allied victory seems inevitable to a tight circle of German officers and field commanders. In an atmosphere of heightened paranoia and dread, wonderfully evoked by Kerr, a report reaches Berlin of a mass grave discovered in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia. Bernie Gunther, now employed by the War Crimes Bureau (part of the Wehrmacht's legal department), is sent to investigate. "I'm supposed to make sure that this is the correct mass grave we're uncovering," he sarcastically concludes when his boss lists the possibilities: the bones could be those of Russian political prisoners; of German or Russian soldiers killed in action; of missing Polish officers; or, Gunther adds helpfully, "?of Jews murdered by the SS."

Evidence of a Russian massacre of Polish officers is what the Wehrmacht and propaganda master Joseph Goebbels, for different reasons, desire. Such an atrocity could rupture the Alliance, isolate Russia, reinvigorate German troops, and soften the victors' view of Nazi war crimes. No wonder that Gunther, his investigation hardly begun, is summoned to the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, where his eye, as usual, misses nothing. "As Goebbels limped into the room," he observes, "I stood up and saluted in the customary way and he flapped a delicate little hand back over his shoulder in imitation of the way the Leader did it — as if swatting an irritating mosquito, or dismissing some sycophant?"

The sketch of Goebbels is one of many superb portraits. Kerr has obviously immersed himself in the manners and speech of this period, and his details are always telling; they reveal both the essence of a character, whether minor or infamous, and the texture of events long calcified into legend. The repeated attempts to assassinate Hitler, for example, woven artfully into the plot, expose the desperation of the time and the nature of the Prussian aristocrats involved. "They were just careless people?" Gunther observes of the officers. "It was their carelessness that had allowed Hitler to take possession of the country in 1933; and through their carelessness they had failed to remove him now?"

By the time he reaches this conclusion, Gunther has killed. and almost been killed, in Smolensk. (He also falls in love, but this is brief and doomed.) Even as the mass grave of Polish officers is excavated, fresh murders demand his attention; two German telephonists on duty during a brief visit by Hitler are found dead (what did they overhear?), and a key witness in the Katyn massacre case is murdered. Crimes new and old, corruption personal and political, conspiracies of all kinds: Kerr eases these components into place with his usual dexterity. But A Man Without Breath, for all its intricacy and spark, is also Kerr's most contemplative — and substantial — novel to date. More gray than noir. The gray of ashes.

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399160790
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/16/2013
  • Series: Bernie Gunther Series , #9
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 696,649
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Kerr

PHILIP KERR is the author of eight previous Bernie Gunther novels. Bestselling Field Gray was nominated for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Kerr is also the much-loved author of the fantasy series Children of the Lamp. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    GREAT BOOK

    GREAT BOOK

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    L

    Only one review and its a plot spoiler. So much for a true review where a real reader tells if they liked it or not. No, we get a wannabe author who has to take someone elses work, rewrite as a review and claim it as their own. These rude, inconsiderate plot spoilers need to be fined and banned from posting these plot spoilers.

    3 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    If you think it's hard for a detective to find a killer today in a city like New York or Los Angeles, imagine what it would be like for an investigator in the German Army in the middle of World War II deep in Nazi occupied Russia. A large portion of the German Army has been crushed by Russian troops at Stalingrad. Tens of thousands are dying on both sides of the war as Bernie Gunther, ex-cop from Berlin, now working for the Army, is called in to investigate the mass murder of over 4,000 Polish officers, who were once prisoners of the Russians near Smolensk. If the Germans can prove the Russian Communist forces have ruthlessly executed these men, it may provide a badly needed public relations coup for the Nazi's, glossing over some of their crimes. Gunther is a loyal German, but not a member of the Nazi party. He has to walk a tightrope between the facts and the results that his superiors want. Any facts are hard to come by as everyone involved, both German and Russian, are looking out for themselves. More often than not lying to keep themselves out of trouble and trying to stay alive. This includes Gunther, who has gotten in trouble before over his less than enthusiastic views of the Nazi's. As if this weren't enough, two German soldiers have been murdered. Their throats sliced open with surgical precision. Gunther is the only competent investigating officer, in the middle of the on going international incident, available to track down their murderer. This is a good blend of fact and fiction, full of action and suspense. Author Philip Kerr's series on the Berlin cop, Bernie Gunther, is a great addition to detective fiction. Highly recommended for those who enjoy hard hitting detective fiction with a touch of noir.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2013

    A bit of a disappointment after reading "Field Gray" a

    A bit of a disappointment after reading "Field Gray" and "Prague Fatale". Bernie Gunther continues to be an interesting character, and certainly had his hands full in this one. But, the main mission he was on in trying to uncover the tragic happening in the Katyn woods got a little sidetracked with other activity requiring his attention. A little disjointed it seemed at times, and finally saved at the end with the discovery of the real culprit. Not a bad read, but certainly not a page turner for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2013

    Philip Kerr has done it again. Another terrific Bernie Gunther

    Philip Kerr has done it again. Another terrific Bernie Gunther mystery / historical fiction. I've loved each book in this series and hope to have new ones to read regularly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2014

    Interesting and different perspective of WWII.  Great characters

    Interesting and different perspective of WWII.  Great characters.

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  • Posted July 17, 2013

    Great book!

    Interesting to read a mystery when the lead character is a German and has to deal with the politics of the Nazis at the time. Quite a different twist on a mystery.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    Would not recommend this book

    I did not care for his style and had a difficult time continuing to read. I finally just stopped reading.

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  • Posted May 15, 2013

    always a good read

    Phillip Kerr's books are so full of history,and he makes his detective stories revolve around the most interesting subject matter.I thoroughly enjoy this one.

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  • Posted May 14, 2013

    This is an exceptional novel ! It's the first Bernie Gunther nov

    This is an exceptional novel ! It's the first Bernie Gunther novel I've read and I will definitely read all of the others . It is history and entertainment wrapped in a terrific read . Wow !

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  • Posted May 10, 2013

    Couldn't put it down until I had finished!

    A fascinating read' saying that, I should remind readers that the Wehrmacht (Make War) was thoroughly despised and hated in all occupied countries. The Nazis were worse but only by degree. The Wehrmacht was just as hard and cruel as any army in modern history. I do know, many of my immediate family were engaged in WWII and a close friend lost his family to the Holocaust.

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  • Posted May 10, 2013

    Splendid portrayal of a Berlin cop during WWII

    I lived in Berlin from 1960 to 1963 as a Mormon missionary. I was in East Berlin on Sunday, August 13, 1961. The German border police and the Soviet infantry built a wall 30 miles through the center of Berlin in essentially one night.

    I came to know and love Berliners. I was on the street with almost two million of them when John F Kennedy riveted them with his now famous: Ich bin ein Berliner. Berliners have always been more skeptical and possessive of a wry sense of humor than Germans, or other Europeans. That was true before the war, and was accentuated by the Soviet occupation after the war. Here, Phillip Kerr captures that essential Berliner character in the person of Bernie Gunther. At times, as you read this book, you will wonder if someone could be so brash in the face of the evils of Nazism. I think it is a fair question, and my answer, having known many Berliners as good friends, my answer is it is not only possible, I believe it was prevalent beneath the surface during the era of the triumphant Nazis.

    I recommend this to all those who enjoy a hard bitten detective story with an entertaining and compelling figure at its heart.

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  • Posted May 7, 2013

    another entertaining Bernie Gunther novel. As with the previous

    another entertaining Bernie Gunther novel. As with the previous novel, this one goes back into the past, where our intrepid hero is working for the German Army War Crimes Bureau when Polish army bodies are found in Katyn Wood/Forest. Bernie is sent by Joseph Goebbels to help build an international case showing the horrors the Soviet NKVD has unleashed by killing almost 5000 Polish senior NCOs and officer POW's. Along the way he meets a lady friend, has shots fired at him, and as usual, manages to piss off most of the German High Command and those he works around. If found this to be interesting both for its historical notes and for the usual cynical but ultimatley very human main character. However, I did not find it as "deep" as most of the earlier novels about the detective from Berlin. Given the way that Field Grey ended, I'm not sure author Kerr can continue moving the series forward, and will have to simply be content with fleshing out episodes in the past. Still, good readng.

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    Posted April 16, 2013

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    Posted June 10, 2013

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    Posted July 28, 2014

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    Posted August 30, 2013

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    Posted June 14, 2013

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