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by Philip Kerr
Penguin, August 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 0142004022

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's 1947, and Germany has been divided up by conquerors of the war. In Berlin the streets are bombed out and food is rare. Life is hard for those who live there and former policeman, now PI, Bernie Gunther is trying to make a living by taking any job available. He is recently back from a Russian prison camp and things are difficult between him and his wife. When Bernie finds out that she is making ends meet by dallying with one of the American servicemen assigned to Berlin, Bernie is left reeling.

Emil Becker, an old acquaintance in the SS and now a successful black marketer, has been arrested for killing an American Counterintelligence Corps captain and Bernie is asked to find out who really committed the crime to save Emil from being convicted and put to death.

But Emil isn't the only person interested in the real facts of the case. Russian Colonel Palkovich Poroshin is the first to ask for Bernie's help in finding out what actually happened and with his help Bernie is able to travel to Vienna to the scene of the crime to investigate. Even though he trusts no one and knows that he might be in danger by taking this case, Bernie welcomes the excuse to leave Berlin and his wife for a while.

Visiting Emil in prison, Bernie finds out that the murdered American Captain, Edward Linden was somehow involved with stolen files from the Americans. Emil insists that he was only delivering the files to Linden, while he was really working for a man named Konig. Emil swears it was all a set-up and that he had no reason to kill Linden.

As Bernie searches for the man, Konig, to corroborate Emil's story, Bernie meets another American intelligence officer, John Belinksky, who says he is very interested in finding out what actually happened when Linden died. He also is certain that Emil is innocent of this murder, though guilty of others, and he helps Bernie in his case by pointing out other men and groups that were interested in the information Linden had been selling.

This investigation soon brings Bernie to the attention of a group of men who, working under and with the Americans now, are also completing their own secret agenda of bringing former Nazis into positions of power.

GERMAN REQUIEM is an extremely dark and depressing book. The tales of post-war deprivation, lies and duplicity makes you fear that there was no morality left on any side involved after the end of the war. The winners divided Germany into sectors and the worst excesses of the soldiers and their treatment of the conquered people were permitted to play out, especially amongst the Russian vanquishers. After the war all life was cheap, with every side competing to call themselves victims.

Almost everyone here is lying about who they are, what their background and what their real agenda is. Emil was a low-level mass murderer himself as part of the SS. In fact, even the hero Bernie, who as a policeman at the start of the war was automatically made a member of the SS for a while, left the SS by transferring to the front; thus he feels himself relieved of any guilt for going along with the Nazi party.

The murder and the mystery are played out with many complex twists and turns and is masterfully done. The big surprises have tremendous impact and the reader will be left feeling unbalanced and shaky by the end of the book.

GERMAN REQUIEM is not easy to read because of the location and content, but it is well crafted and written extremely well. Not only is the case complex, but the true facts that the story uncovers also makes the reader think about the idea of a changeable morality along with the deals United States made with our former enemies after the war. This is a thinking person's book and it will stick with the reader long after it's finished. GERMAN REQUIEM should be on everyone's reading list.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, September 2006

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