A Man without Breath (Bernie Gunther Series #9)

A Man without Breath (Bernie Gunther Series #9)

by Philip Kerr


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143125136
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/25/2014
Series: Bernie Gunther Series , #9
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 121,998
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels, two of which—Field Gray and The Lady from Zagreb—were finalists for the Edgar® Award for Best Novel. Kerr has also won several Shamus Awards and the British Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Award for Historical Crime Fiction. As P. B. Kerr, he is the author of the much-loved young adult fantasy series Children of the Lamp.

Read an Excerpt


Franz Meyer stood up at the head of the table, glanced down, touched the cloth, and awaited our silence. With his fair hair, blue eyes, and neoclassical features that looked as if they’d been carved by Arno Breker, Hitler’s official state sculptor, he was no one’s idea of a Jew. Half of the SS and SD were more obviously Semitic. Meyer took a deep, almost euphoric breath, gave a broad grin that was part relief and part joie de vivre, and raised his glass to each of the four women seated around the table. None were Jewish and yet, by the racial stereotypes beloved of the Propaganda Ministry, they might have been; all were Germans with strong noses, dark eyes, and even darker hair. For a moment Meyer seemed choked with emotion, and when at last he was able to speak, there were tears in his eyes.

“I’d like to thank my wife and her sisters for your efforts on my behalf,” he said. “To do what you did took great courage, and I can’t tell you what it meant to those of us who were imprisoned in the Jewish Welfare Office to know that there were so many people on the outside who cared enough to come and demonstrate on our behalf.”

“I still can’t believe they haven’t arrested us,” said Meyer’s wife, Siv.

“They’re so used to people just doing what they’re told,” said his sister-in-law, Klara, “that they don’t know what to do.”

“We’ll go back to Rosenstrasse tomorrow,” insisted Siv. “We won’t stop until everyone in there is released. All two thousand of them. We’ve shown what we can do when public opinion is mobilized. We have to keep the pressure up.”

“Yes,” said Meyer. “And we will. We will. But right now I’d like to propose a toast. To our new friend Bernie Gunther. But for him and his colleagues at the War Crimes Bureau, I’d probably still be imprisoned in the Jewish Welfare Office. And who knows where after that?” He smiled. “To Bernie.”

There were six of us in the cozy little dining room in the Meyers’ apartment in Lützowerstrasse. As four of them stood up and toasted me silently, I shook my head. I wasn’t sure I deserved Franz Meyer’s thanks, and besides, the wine we were drinking was a decent German red—a Spätburgunder from long before the war that he and his wife would have done better to have traded for some food instead of wasting it on me. Any wine—let alone a good German red—was almost impossible to come by in Berlin.

Politely I waited for them to drink to my health before standing up to contradict my host. “I’m not sure I can claim to have had much influence on the SS,” I explained. “I spoke to a couple of cops I know who were policing your demonstration and they told me there’s a strong rumor doing the rounds that most of the prisoners arrested on Saturday as part of the factory action will probably be released in a few days.”

“That’s incredible,” said Klara. “But what does it mean, Bernie? Do you think the authorities are actually going soft on deportations?”

Before I could offer my opinion the air raid warning siren sounded. We all looked at each other in surprise; it had been almost two years since the last air raid by the Royal Air Force.

“We should go to the shelter,” I said. “Or the basement, perhaps.”

Meyer nodded. “Yes, you’re right,” he said firmly. “You should all go. Just in case it’s for real.”

I fetched my coat and hat off the stand and turned back to Meyer.

“But you’re coming, too, aren’t you?” I said.

“Jews aren’t permitted in the shelters. Perhaps you didn’t notice it before. Well, there’s no reason why you should have. I don’t think there’s been an air raid since we started to wear the yellow star.”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t.” I shrugged. “So, where are Jews supposed to go?”

“To hell, of course. At least that’s what they hope.” This time Meyer’s grin was sardonic. “Besides, people know this is a Jewish apartment, and since the law requires that homes be left with their doors and windows open, to minimize the effect of a pressure wave from a bomb blast, that’s also an invitation to some local thief to come and steal from us.” He shook his head. “So I shall stay here.”

I glanced out the window; in the street below, hundreds of people were already being herded toward the local shelter by uniformed police. There wasn’t much time to lose.

“Franz,” said Siv. “We’re not going there without you. Just leave your coat. If they can’t see your star, they’ll have to assume you’re German. You can carry me in and say I fainted, and if I show my pass and say I’m your wife then no one will be any the wiser.”

“She’s right,” I said.

“And if I’m arrested, what then? I’ve only just been released.” Meyer shook his head and laughed. “Besides, it’s probably a false alarm. Hasn’t Fat Hermann promised us that this is the best-defended city in Europe?”

The siren continued to wail outside like some dreadful mechanical clarion announcing the end of a night shift in the smoking factories of hell.

Siv Meyer sat down at the table and clasped her hands tight. “If you’re not going, then I’m not going.”

“Neither am I,” Klara said, sitting down beside her.

“There’s no time to argue about this,” said Meyer. “You should go. All of you.”

“He’s right,” I said, more urgently now as already we could hear the drone of the bombers in the distance; it was obvious this was no false alarm. I opened the door and waved the four women toward me. “Come on,” I said.

“No,” said Siv. “We’re staying.”

The two other sisters glanced at each other and then sat down alongside their Jewish brother-in-law. This left me on my feet with a coat in my hand and a nervous look on my face. After all, I’d seen what our own bombers had done to Minsk and parts of France. I put on the coat and shoved my hands in the pockets so as to conceal the fact that they were shaking.

“I don’t think they’re coming to drop propaganda leaflets,” I said. “Not this time.”

“Yes, but it’s not civilians like us they’re after, surely,” said Siv. “It’s the government district. They’ll know there’s a hospital near here. The RAF won’t want to risk hitting the Catholic Hospital, will they? The English aren’t like that. It’s the Wilhelmstrasse they’ll be after.”

“How will they know from two thousand feet up in the air?” I heard myself utter weakly.

“She’s right,” said Meyer. “It’s not the west of Berlin they’re targeting. It’s the east. Which means it’s probably just as well we’re none of us in Rosenstrasse tonight.” He smiled at me. “You should go, Bernie. We’ll be all right. You’ll see.”

“I expect you’re right,” I said and, deciding to ignore the air raid siren like the others, I started to take off my coat. “All the same, I can hardly leave you all here.”

“Why not?” asked Klara.

I shrugged, but what it really came down to was this: I could hardly leave and still manage to look good in Klara’s lovely brown eyes, and I was quite keen that she should have a good impression of me; but I didn’t feel I could say this to her, not yet.

For a moment I felt my chest tighten as my nerves continued to get the better of me. Then I heard some bombs explode in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief. Back in the trenches, during the Great War, when you could hear the shells exploding somewhere else, it usually meant you were safe because it was commonly held that you never heard the one that killed you.

“Sounds like it’s north Berlin that’s getting it,” I said, leaning in the doorway. “The petroleum refinery on Thalerstrasse, probably. It’s the only real target around here. But I think we should at least get under the table. Just in case a stray bomb—”

I think that was the last thing I said and probably it was the fact that I was standing in the doorway that saved my life because just then the glass in the nearest window frame seemed to melt into a thousand drops of light. Some of these old Berlin apartment buildings were made to last, and I later learned that the bomb that blew up the one we were in—not to mention the hospital on Lützowstrasse—and flattened it in a split second would certainly have killed me had not the lintel above my head and the stout oak door that was hanging inside it resisted the weight of the roof’s metal joist, for this is what killed Siv Meyer and her three sisters.

After that there was darkness and silence, except for the sound of a kettle on a gas plate whistling as it came slowly to the boil, although this was probably just the sensation in my battered eardrums. It was as if someone had switched off an electric light and then pulled away the floorboards on which I had been standing, and the effect of the world disappearing from underneath my feet might have been similar to the sensation of being hooded and hanged on a gallows. I don’t know. All I really remember of what happened is that I was upside down lying on a pile of rubble when I recovered consciousness and there was a door on top of my face which, for several minutes until I recovered enough breath in my bomb-blasted lungs to moan for help, I was convinced was the lid of my own damned coffin.


Excerpted from "A Man Without Breath"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Philip Kerr.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for A Man Without Breath
“This is the most intelligent brand of crime fiction, and there is moral complexity here in spades.”—The Daily Beast
“An engrossing story.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
A Man Without Breath is a masterful accomplishment that delivers a gripping mystery wrapped around meticulously researched history…It brings the deadly past to life.”—The Arizona Republic

“By the time we have reached the 465th and final page we have had not only a stirring novel of World War II, but a deep immersion into the war’s history. Let’s hear it for a Gunther Novel No. 10!”—Express Milwaukee

“Kerr just keeps raising the ante with this series. And this is the best book yet.”—Dayton Daily News
“One of these days World War II will come to an end, and then how will we manage without Bernie Gunther, the cynical Berlin cop who has somehow contrived to stay alive and retain some vestige of personal integrity in Philip Kerr’s harrowing historical thrillers?”—The New York Times Book Review
“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.”—Library Journal
“Captivating . . . Kerr makes everything look easy, from blending history with a clever and intricate whodunit plot to powerful descriptions of cruelty.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“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 . . . [A Man Without Breath] masterfully explores morality's shadowy gray edge.”—Kirkus

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A Man Without Breath 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good combination of a police procedural from a unique viewpoint and an historic event, the slaughter at Katyn Woods.
bobsocean More than 1 year ago
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.
ebooks18 More than 1 year ago
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.
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Trying to keep order in middle of a war should have humor for relief but too heavy a style for enjoyment one murderer out of hundreds makes little difference but the personal must not be allowed to upstage the state for wwii reenactors
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting and different perspective of WWII.  Great characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hubbabubba1 More than 1 year ago
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.
SM7 More than 1 year ago
I did not care for his style and had a difficult time continuing to read. I finally just stopped reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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drayce More than 1 year ago
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.
JerseyJoe More than 1 year ago
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 !
Beet5hovin More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rush41 More than 1 year ago
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.
silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.