Faster, higher, freer

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

CIRCLING THE SUN. By Paula McLain. Read by Katharine McEwan. Random House Audio. 12 ½ hours; nine CDs. $46. Also available in print from Ballantine Books.

As she did so ably in The Paris Wife, the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Paula McLain once again tackles in fiction a real-life subject who has been written about by others. And once again, she creates a compelling novel that combines historical facts and characters with an imaginative journey into a character’s mind and heart.

This time, McLain gives us the story of Beryl Markham, famed aviator, horse trainer and all-around adventurer in early 20th century Kenya. Other books about Markham include West With the Night, her autobiography (although there is some dispute over whether she really wrote it herself).

A great deal is known and much more is rumored about Markham. She was the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She was a highly successful trainer of thoroughbred racehorses in Kenya. She pioneered the tactic of scouting for elephants by airplane. She was married three times and had one son whom she gave up to his father and grandmother. She was friends with Karen Blixen, the Danish woman who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen, and had an affair of her own with Blixen’s lover, the big game hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton. She had other love affairs, including, many believe, a scandalous one with the British Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester. She spent time with the dissolute set of British expatriates in Kenya. And on and on…

McLain weaves in much of this material, which certainly makes for an interesting story. The colonists in Kenya in the years after World War I were unconventional and nonconformist by British standards. Someone reading or listening to this book almost needs a scorecard to keep track of who was having an affair with whom, and there was a great deal of divorcing, philandering and remarrying. But the colonists and expatriates also had their own sets of rules, and they could be tough on those who, like Markham, paid them little heed.

Writing from Markham’s point of view, McLain gives us insight into why she acted as she did, even though Markham herself often did not completely understand. McLain writes about the historic trans-Atlantic flight only briefly, at the book’s beginning and end. Instead, she focuses on what led to Beryl’s tangled relationships and eventual desire to become a pilot.

Beryl’s parents (the Clutterbucks; Markham was the name of her second husband and the father of her child) moved to Kenya when she was very young, but her mother quickly returned to England, taking Beryl’s older brother and leaving the girl. Beryl grew up half wild, raised as much by the natives who lived near the farm as by her father. From the native children, especially a boy her age, she learned to hunt and to act and think like a warrior. From her father, she learned how to train horses.

Eventually, Beryl’s father attempted to rein in his wild child, but it was too late. She drove governesses away and refused to stay when sent away to school.  Her father and the “housekeeper” who had come to live with them arranged a coming-out party for her, but Beryl resisted most attempts to turn her into a proper British young lady.

So she was ill equipped to deal with the abrupt change in her life when her father’s financial woes brought an end to life as she had known it on their beloved farm. Rather than move away with her father, she married a neighboring farmer when she was only 16. When that marriage proved disastrous, she left her husband and began her quest to become a professional horse trainer, something no woman in Kenya had done.

McLain follows Markham through the next 15 or so tempestuous years, through her financial, professional and romantic ups and downs – and more than a few scandals.

Over the years, some have held Beryl Markham up as a feminist crusader, as a woman who lived her life on her own terms. McLain shows us that she was courageous, daring and sometimes foolhardy, to be sure, but also vulnerable. Markham never really accepted society’s rules and conventions, but, as she came to realize, her efforts to live as she wished sometimes led to trouble, even disaster. She was a remarkable woman, but still a woman, who had to work harder than men whenever she tried to succeed in “their” world – and who sometimes had to depend upon men for financial and other types of support. She loved the wildness, and she loved her freedom, but more than once, she paid dearly for following her dreams and impulses.

Although Markham, as depicted by McLain, is exasperating at times, she’s largely a sympathetic character, with impressive spirit and determination. Katharine McEwan’s reading in the audio version is always captivating and often touching. In Paula McLain’s masterful portrayal, Beryl Markham is not always admirable, but she is certainly intriguing.

  •  Linda C. Brinson is available for writing and editing projects. You can reach her at
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Behind the lines

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

MADELEINE’S WAR. By Peter Watson. Nan A. Talese Doubleday. 366 pages. $26.95.

World War II is grinding toward an end in Europe, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous to be a spy in occupied France. If anything, the Nazis, knowing an Allied invasion is imminent, have grown more desperate and ruthless.

So when SC2 must choose agents for a particularly dangerous mission, Matthew Hammond has conflicted feelings. He knows that Madeleine Dirac is a very good agent, smart and capable, and that he has made sure she is well trained. He knows that the mission will put her into great danger of being captured, tortured and executed. And he also knows that he loves her.

Matthew is a British Army officer who has been assigned to train men and women for the special unit Prime Minister Winston Churchill has set up to parachute agents into occupied Europe for sabotage, espionage and resistance. He served in France himself earlier in the war, but a serious injury has sidelined him.

Madeleine is a beautiful, feisty French Canadian who is determined to do her part for the Allied effort.  Even though such relationships are frowned on, Matthew and Madeleine fall in love during the intensive training and preparation.

After D Day, as Europe becomes even more chaotic, Matthew is sent to France on a top-secret mission, with the secondary task of tracking down missing agents, especially female ones.  Some are dead; some are slowly making their way to safety; some are missing.  Madeleine’s fate is unknown, and Matthew fears the worst.

Peter Watson is a respected historian and the author of many nonfiction works, as well as two previous novels under the pen name Mackenzie Ford. In Madeleine’s War, Watson gives us a well-written blend of real history and a fictional romance. The history – women spies, Resistance fighters, the deep divisions within France as the war wound down, the growing worries among the other Allies about Russia’s post-war role – is fascinating. The romance and the suspense about what has happened to Madeline make for a compelling story as well. Watson does a good job with dialogue, description and suspense.

Although Madeleine gets title billing, Watson does not try to tell the story from her point of view. Instead, we learn the story through Matthew’s eyes, seeing his emotions and fears. Because he learns what has happened to Madeleine slowly and after the fact, the story is more an unfolding mystery than a tale of action and high drama. This highly readable novel also offers thoughtful insights into the moral ambiguities of war.


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A delicious tale

Crime fiction, the lovely French countryside, a sense of history AND lavish meals – there’s a lot to like in the Bruno books, and Bob Moyer relishes the opportunity to review another book in the series.

THE CHILDREN RETURN. By Martin Walker. Knopf. 320 pages. $24.95

‘To Protect and To Serve.”

Police forces around the world have taken that phrase as their commitment. Not in the provincial French village of St. Denis, however. Bruno, Chief of Police (and the only policeman) in this Dordogne village, has a slightly different take — To Protect and Preserve is his credo. Enthralled with the culture and traditions of his adopted home, he keeps a mindful eye on the past, a watchful eye on his present charges and a judicious eye on the path forward as he guides them into the future.

Every book in this acclaimed series illustrates how the past is never past but is always present, and this latest installment is no exception. Out of the past comes a large bequest to the village from a Jewish philanthropist who claims he and his sister were sheltered as children in the village during the Holocaust. Bruno co-ordinates the arrangements for the conditions of the gift as well as security for the sister’s return.

Out of the present comes Sami, an autistic Arab boy dragooned out of a nearby mosque into making bombs in Afghanistan. His escape from his captors coincides with the gory death of an undercover agent tracking the jihadist group that enslaved the St. Denis resident. Great danger and dozens of agents from national and international agencies accompany Sami’s return to the village. Bruno has to deal with it all.

Engaging though they may be, these events simply set the table for the main dish here — food porn. Martin Walker pours his best writing into the many meals in the series (three in this book), lovingly prepared by Bruno and his friends. The author lards his narrative with succulent ingredients, then ladles on a heavy sauce of culinary adjectives. It’s all guaranteed to set your taste buds atingle.

Walker usually lavishes more spice in Bruno’s cooking than he does in the chief’s love life. This time, however, he plops a hot babe into the plot, an American diplomat who can hold both a press conference and a gun with aplomb. She’s a dish that seems to please Bruno’s palate. Don’t be surprised if a bunch of little Brunos soon roam the streets of St. Denis.

The paths of the two “children” collide in a violent if slightly contrived conclusion. Once again, Bruno survives the conflagration (this is, after all, a series) and comes off as the hero. Bruno’s fans can sit back, satiated, while anticipating the next serving of Bruno’s adventures, as well as the publication this fall of The Bruno Cookbook. Bon appetit.

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Extraordinary courage

Paul O’Connor has been reading and thinking about spies this summer, and he’s developed high standards.

A TRUE STORY OF TERROR, ESPIONAGE, AND ONE AMERICAN FAMILY’S HEROIC RESISTANCE IN NAZI-OCCUPIED PARIS. By Alex Kershaw. Random House Audio. Read by Mark Deakins. Seven hours. $35. Also available in hardback from Crown/Archetype. 304 pages. $28.

When Germany declared war on the U.S. in December 1941, Dr. Sumner Jackson had every reason to believe that he’d be arrested. The Maine native and World War I American Army veteran ran the American Hospital in Paris and, therefore, was an enemy national so far as the German occupying forces were concerned.

Additionally, he lived at 11 Avenue de Foch, an address just a few doors down from residences requisitioned by the Gestapo and Vichy France collaborators. In short, Jackson was living and working right under the noses of what were supposed to be some of the world’s most efficient secret police.

Could there have been a better location from which to operate a spy network, including a drop site for agents and a safe house for downed Allied fliers being smuggled back to England, than this doctor’s home and office?

Alex Kershaw’s Avenue of Spies is the story of Jackson, his wife and teenage son as they helped the Allied cause. The author sets this story in the context of the wider Gestapo and SS operations in the city, catching Allied spies, rolling up the French resistance and deporting Jews to the death camps.

Given all that material, it is remarkable that this book is not more exciting and suspenseful, that at few times does it make us want to read just one more chapter before turning the lights out. It’s not that it’s dull; it’s just that it is rarely compelling. On only one occasion, for example, do we really get a good sense of the American flier being smuggled back to England. On only a few occasions do we sense the danger involved in any one information drop at Jackson’s office.

(A caveat here: I listened to this book immediately after reading the spectacular Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman. So, my expectations may have been too high.)

The story is most valuable in its detailed account of Nazi operations in Paris, and the efficiency with which SS leader Theodor Dannecker and SS officer Helmut Knochen rounded up French Jews and infiltrated the resistance. While a great deal has been written recently about Allied intelligence victories during the European occupation, this book provides the other side, that in which the Germans have their victories and frustrate Allied spy and resistance networks.

But the very efficiency and skill the Germans demonstrated in other pursuits only makes their ignorance of what was happening in the home of the Jacksons, just a few doors away, that much more incomprehensible. And, I should say, makes the courage demonstrated by the family ever more noteworthy.

  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at


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X is for ….

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

X. By Sue Grafton. Read by Judy Kaye. Random House Audio. 11 CDS, 13 ½ hours. $45. Also available in print from Putnam.

So much for speculation about what Sue Grafton would make “X” stand for in her long-running series of alphabet-named detective stories, dating back to A Is for Alibi. X stands on its own. And X does a fine job of it.

Kinsey Millhone, the tough but vulnerable, smart and endearing private eye, is between jobs when this, the 24th book in the series, opens. So when she gets a call from a woman who wants her to look into a personal matter for her, she’s willing to see what’s involved. As it turns out, the obviously wealthy woman hires Kinsey to find out where the son she gave up for adoption as an infant has gone now that he’s been released from prison. Her son, it seems, grew up to be a bank robber.

This job at first appears to be reasonably routine and easy – but then complications – including the theft of a valuable work of art – arise.

Meanwhile, Kinsey is busy with some nonpaying work. The widow of a recently murdered private investigator, a man who was a former associate if not exactly a friend, of Kinsey’s, has asked for help. The IRS wants to look into her late husband’s back taxes. When looking through a box of his papers, Kinsey finds an envelope under a false bottom. The contents of the envelope send her on a quest to find out more about the death of a young woman 28 years earlier – and about several other women who seem to have had less than pleasant dealings with that woman’s husband, Ned Lowe.

Closer to home, Kinsey is dealing with her landlord and friend Henry’s distress about the drought that’s hit their region of California – and their soaring water bills. It doesn’t help that the new next-door neighbors, an elderly couple, are increasingly annoying.

In her usual hardworking style, Kinsey juggles all these challenges. She’s determined to find out the truth about Ned Lowe, even if doing so puts her in harm’s way. She’s equally determined to right the wrongs she inadvertently contributed to when she took that little job for the wealthy woman. And if she must, she’ll deal with those pesky neighbors.

As usual, Kinsey wraps everything up and survives to investigate another day. In the process, she reflects with considerable insight on questions of law and justice, right and wrong.

Over the years, Sue Grafton has done a marvelous job of moving Kinsey along through life since she started the series in 1982. Some characters are constant; others come and go. Things change but slowly, so that Kinsey is still in the 1980s, operating in a world without cell phones, one where computers are still relatively rare and a detective who visits the local library will be looking for old city directories and telephone books, not Wi-Fi.

Happily, Judy Kaye, who has recorded the entire Alphabet Mystery series, is back for X. We must hope she’ll also read “Y” and “Z,” because after all these years and books, Kaye’s voice is unmistakably Kinsey’s.




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Mystery and history

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

TAIL GATE. By Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown. Bantam. 307 pages. $26.

Mystery fans probably already know whether they like Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series. The books, set in a small town on the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and close to the university town of Charlottesville, fall into the broad category of cozies. The many animals – pets and wild creatures – present in this rural setting talk to one another, and we readers are privy to what they are saying, although the human characters in the stories are not.  Reading what animals think, especially about their humans, is often amusing. If you don’t, however, like the conceit of talking animals, you probably won’t care for these mysteries.

The stories have some predictability beyond the clever and articulate animals. The same people appear in book after book, although some undergo life changes as time passes. Our heroine, Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, always gets into trouble by investigating whatever murder or murders are disrupting the bucolic bliss. Some animals, usually Harry’s two cats and/or her corgi, usually save her from whatever danger she’s stirred up.

But Rita Mae Brown manages to keep the stories fresh, not only by killing off people with ties to different sectors of the community, but also by working interesting information into her plots. This time, our initial victim (watch out for more) is a beloved elderly University of Virginia history professor, gunned down on the golf course, of all places.

Unable to figure out why anyone would murder the popular professor, Harry looks into his research. Along with her, we learn fascinating information about a Revolutionary War camp near Charlottesville for British and Hessian military prisoners. Through some chapters set during the Revolution, Brown helps us to learn more about the prison camp and its people, both the colonial soldiers stationed there and the prisoners. Of course, one of the British prisoners, an officer, had a corgi as a companion.

Brown ties everything – past and present, murders – together in a satisfying way. This is a good mystery with enough danger and action to keep things interesting.  It’s enhanced by a slice of history that may be unfamiliar to most readers.


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A spy tale, stranger than fiction

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

THE BILLION DOLLAR SPY: A TRUE STORY OF COLD WAR ESPIONAGE AND BETRAYAL. By David E. Hoffman. Penguin Random House Audio. Read by Dan Woren. 11 hours and 54 minutes. $20. Also in hardcover from Doubleday. 262 pages. $28.95

Adolf Tolkachev despised his government, and for 35 years the American military has been a beneficiary of that hatred. When American planes ruled the skies over the Balkans in the late 1990s, or Iraq in the early 1990s and after 2003, our pilots could thank Tolkachev for their technological advantages.

Beginning in 1980, Tolkachev leaked reams of documents to the Central Intelligence Agency that showed the progress of Soviet Union military technology, its capabilities, deficiencies and vulnerabilities. Those leaks allowed U.S. aircraft designers to build U.S. jets that controlled the skies in every conflict involving Soviet technology.

Tolkachev’s story is brilliantly told in Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s latest, The Billion Dollar Spy. And Dan Woren does a fine job of reading, providing an appropriate Russian inflection when necessary, his voice adding to the tension that Hoffman masterfully creates in his text.

This story borders on the not believable. For years, Tolkachev spirited top-secret documents out of his office, carried them home where he photographed them during lunch hour, and then returned them to the files where they belonged.

No one ever stopped him. No one ever questioned why he needed documents that had little or nothing to do with his own assignments. No one noticed how many documents he had signed out or that he confounded internal security measures, at times, with forged documents. No one spotted him meeting with U.S. agents in public parks.

In short, no one in the Soviet military or security apparatus had any idea that the country was losing what amounted to its most important military secrets.

If this had been presented as a work of fiction, I would have dismissed it, been unwilling to suspend belief. Everyone knows that 1980s Soviet internal security was omniscient and omnipresent.

And that’s the big surprise in this book. That system, run by the KGB, was not as good as our spy movies make it out to be. The CIA had found numerous cracks in the system, and it exploited them expertly.

Maybe the most fascinating aspect of the book is Hoffman’s reporting of the spycraft employed by American agents, the systems of dead drops, deep agents, communications and disguise that allowed the relationship with Tolkachev to go undetected.

At the same time, however, this is a story of the CIA’s incompetence, of its failures and numbskull mistakes, most notably that involving Tolkachev’s repeated attempts to provide information to the U.S. CIA and embassy officials who considered him either a crank or a KGB plant repeatedly dismissed him. Fortunately, someone finally took him seriously and looked at the material he was giving away.

That’s when the lights went on in Langley, and someone realized that Tolkachev was giving away secrets worth billions.

▪    Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at



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Look around you

Paul O’Connor’s summer reading is not for the faint of heart. Here he moves from military history and politics to drug cartels.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

ZERO, ZERO, ZERO. By Roberto Saviano; Translated by Virginia Jewiss. Penguin Audio. Read by Paul Michael. 16 hours, $45. Also available in hardcover from Penguin Press. 416 pages. $29.95.

Roberto Saviano wants you looking over your shoulders, and to your right and left, looking also straight ahead, everywhere for that matter. Look into the faces of everyone you know – family, friends, business associates, clients, doctors, lawyers, bankers.

For, while you might want to deny it, Saviano contends, by looking into all these faces you will be looking into the world of cocaine. People you wouldn’t otherwise suspect are involved with it.

Cocaine is ubiquitous, and it influences everything, Saviano says in his 2014 book Zero, Zero, Zero, only recently translated from his native Italian into English by Virginia Jewiss. Cocaine is available in every town and city of the First World and in most places in the Third World. African villages might lack running water but have a cocaine dealer and be involved in the transport of cocaine across borders.

Cocaine was instrumental in the collapse and recovery of the world’s largest banks in 2007, and it supports politicians, judges and police throughout the world. It is a commodity so lucrative that earnings from an investment in cocaine make early purchases of Apple, Amazon or Microsoft stock look disappointing.

Cocaine is a vast international industry, one with sophisticated means of production, transportation, distribution and financing. That snort your lawyer might be taking after court tonight, or that your children take after school, originated on a farm in Colombia and travelled a remarkable journey through untold channels to reach their noses.

Saviano has written an amazing book, possibly the capstone of a career of reporting on the organized crime that has him living under police guard. He traces the modern cartels back to the 1960s and 1970s, retelling the story of cocaine in the lives of notable individuals and through national and international statistics. It is a book of personal anecdotes and business trends.

It is also a book full of violence, of blood baths as cartels battle one another, civil forces and their own.

Saviano takes us across the globe, starting in Mexico, the current home of the world’s most powerful cartels, and carries us through Colombia, Italy, the rest of Europe, Russia and Africa. The U.S. is always part of the narrative.

There are times I wanted to put this book aside, the times when one story after another ran into each other, confusingly so. The stories of this or that cartel, and how they rose and eventually, fell; of all the people killed and convicted.

It can be a depressing book, especially when Saviano enters as a character, philosophizing on how he is addicted to cocaine, not the drug but the story, how his pursuit of that story has ruled his life.

I continued, however, and am glad I did. This is a masterpiece of reporting, and it did what I would hope it would do for me: Prepare me to read Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, a thriller on the Sinaloa cartel.

Paul Michael reads this audio book with all the gravitas it deserves.

  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at
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Afloat with love and literature

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE LITTLE PARIS BOOK SHOP. By Nina George. Read by Steve West and Emma Bering, with Cassandra Campbell. Random House Audio. 11 hours; 9 CDs. $46. Also available in print from Crown.

Monsieur Perdu runs a floating bookshop, on a barge moored in the Seine in Paris. But he’s more than just a seller of books: Perdu is a literary apothecary. He has the gift of figuring out what’s troubling his patrons, and then prescribing the novels that will help them. Good fiction, he believes, can solve many of life’s problems, or at least make hardships more bearable.

Unfortunately, Perdu cannot heal himself. He has been barely going through the motions in a bleak existence for more than 20 years, since the love of his life abandoned him. She sent him a letter, but he chose not to open it.

Then circumstances – including a new woman, Catherine, moving into his apartment building – prompt him to read the letter from his beloved Manon at last, and what he finds sends him off on a spur-of-the-moment journey. He’s determined to face up at last to what really happened, all of it. He hopes to find some semblance of peace, and perhaps forgiveness.

With no preparation, without provisions or even cash, Perdu unties the barge and sets off on a journey across a network of rivers and canals, heading for the south of France. He’s joined by a young bestselling author who hopes to dodge his fans and shed whatever has been preventing him from writing his second book. Before long, an itinerant Italian chef who’s also lost the love of his life joins the unlikely crew. All three find much of value on their quest.

And they take the reader along on their improbable journey, having adventures and meeting people along the way. For those of us who can’t take a boat tour of France’s rivers and canals, this is the next best thing – with lots of literary references as a bonus.

It’s no wonder this book, recently translated from the original German, was on bestseller lists in Europe for many months. It’s a highly original and thoroughly captivating story, sure to appeal to those who love books and the power of literature in our lives. There’s a bit of magic here, requiring a little willing suspension of disbelief. There’s also much truth about life, love and the possibility of finding healing and redemption.

The story is sometimes sad, often funny, delightfully romantic and very real.

Steve West and Emma Bering, with help from Cassandra Campbell, bring it all to life in the audio version. They use just enough French accents and the occasional word or phrase to transport the listener/reader to the charming settings. As I can’t do French accents in my head when reading printed books, I found this novel particularly well suited to audio.



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Sleuthing for the Nazis

Bob Moyer has a wide range of reading favorites that includes mystery/thrillers and books about the Holocaust. Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series deftly combines these two interests.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE LADY FROM ZAGREB. By Philip Kerr. Putnam. 421 pages. $26.95.

It’s 1942, the beginning of the end, the Soviet Union has not fallen, hundreds of thousands of people are being killed, and Bernie Gunther has an appointment with Hitler’s henchman, Dr. Goebbels, whom he calls the “Mahatma Propagandi.” Humor in the face of horror – just one of the many characteristics that make Bernie such a marvelous protagonist in this rewarding series.

His multifaceted persona enables him to maneuver adroitly around any crime the Nazis ask him to solve, while illuminating with his observations the context in which it occurs. It seems he has a knack that they can’t do without, and a penchant for tongue-in-cheek comments that he has to keep in check. The Nazis, and the author, have him right where they want him.

When he gets to the appointment, he learns that Goebbels wants him to find the father of Germany’s most popular movie star, and deliver a letter to him. It’s a favor that the Mahatma can’t officially order; he wants her in his next movie, and his bed. Bernie immediately makes a simple task more dangerous by beating Goebbels to the lady’s boudoir. Caught between a rock and a soft place, he is soon swept up in a major lie, and a series of conspiracies involving Swiss skullduggery and a lot of gold.

As the bodies pile up, Bernie travels through the narrative throwing light on historical events, a hallmark of this series. Atrocities by the Croatian Ustase that turn even the stomachs of the Nazis, the horror that is the Brandenburg Prison, the Wannsee mansion where the Final Solution was first discussed, all appear as background to the plot. We meet the young Austrian officer Kurt Waldheim, future head of the United Nations; the cruel spymaster of the OSS, soon to be the cruel spymaster of the CIA; and the frightened former owner of the Wannsee mansion.

As Bernie works his way through the many clues thrown out here, he brings so many of the background features into the foreground of our attention. While barreling down the Autobahn in Goebbels’ Mercedes roadster, he reflects how Hitler was met at the gates of prison when he was first released by the owner of the motor company Daimler Benz, and given a car: “One day I hoped some thoughtful historian would point out the close connection between the Mercedes-Benz motor car and Germany’s favorite dictator and that the lord would find a way to pay these bastards back for their help in bringing the Nazis to power and keeping them there.” Perhaps some historian has, but he certainly didn’t reach as many readers as Kerr just did.

Some of the best dialogue, and greatest dilemmas, occur inside Bernie’s head, of course. Reflecting on his inescapable conflict, he recalls the medieval Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig with “…all the pictures on the wooden walls of Faust drinking with Mephistopheles. I’ve often felt an affinity with him, too. How else was I to explain my still being alive?” At any moment, Bernie could be shot, hung, or even worse, sent to the front. That’s why his dalliance with The Lady From Zagreb doesn’t disturb him in the slightest: “It felt like a very welcome intermission in the black-and-white horror movie that was my life.”

As the plot plays out, the author throws around clues that make both Bernie and the reader a little smug about what the solution is. To Kerr’s credit, and the reader’s delight, those conclusions jumped to so readily take unexpected twists, leaving Bernie bereft, but still alive for book number 12 in the series, coming in August 2016.

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