"THE LADY FROM ZAGREB," by Philip Kerr, G.P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95, 432 pages (f)
Author Philip Kerr returns to the gritty, noir, World War II-era world of Bernie Gunther in his latest mystery/thriller novel, “The Lady From Zagreb.”
This time, the reluctant Nazi police detective is dragooned into a mission to help convince the beautiful Croatian actress Dalia Dresner to appear in Germany's latest epic by Joseph Goebbels, the "Third Reich's Minister of Truth." She won't appear in the film until she learns the fate of her father, a reclusive Croatian priest. Gunther is soon sent to war-torn Yugoslavia to locate the cleric, only to discover his involvement with something far more sinister.
Gunther is then dispatched to Switzerland to track down Dresner, only to stumble into the middle of a conspiracy to help end the war. Along the way, Gunther encounters a few murders that must be unraveled to complete his mission.
Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels are always entertaining, and “The Lady From Zagreb” is no exception. A classic gumshoe, Gunther carries around his regrets like cigarettes and wears his self-loathing like his SS uniform. Kerr expertly plays Gunther's cynicism and disillusionment off actual historical characters that he comes into contact with throughout the work — men such as Goebbels, SS Gen. Walter Schellenberg and OSS agent Allen Dulles.
The story is fast-paced and contains more than its share of thrilling chases and harrowing escapes. The heart of the story, however, is in Gunther's infatuation with Dresner and in his almost compulsive desire to hold onto something he can believe in in a world run by murderers and thugs. It's a work filled with discontent and melancholy, and it keeps the reader riveted throughout.
“The Lady From Zagreb” may be Kerr's best work since his original “Berlin Noir” trilogy, which introduced readers to Gunther over 20 years ago.
“The Lady From Zagreb” contains a few moderately descriptive sex scenes, some coarse language and several depictions of wartime violence.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: [email protected]