I do so love a book that weaves history in with a fictional plot. Mr. Kerr is great at doing that. Bernie Gunther is the hero in these books. He was a police officer in Germany pre-World War II and was basically roped into becoming a Nazi soldier. That whole story is also weaved throughout the series and how they got to him – well obviously violence but you know what I mean. Bernie cannot go back to Germany in the mid-1950s due to the fact that he was officially a Nazi soldier. He has been hiding in Argentina – big surprise there – and has now made it to Cuba. I haven’t been reading these in order so not sure exactly how that came about except that no one is looked at too closely and there are many nationalities still in Cuba at this time. Batista is still in power but Castro and his rebels are starting to make a dent. There are many sympathizers to the communist way in Cuba around this time probably due to the deplorable conditions a lot of the people were having to live in.
At the start of this book mid-1930s, Hitler is in power and Bernie is working as a hotel detective in Berlin. Anti-Semitism is starting to be a part of everyday life. ‘Real Germans’ are encouraged to not give any business to Jews and the Jews are highly encouraged to get out of the country. As is true to the time no one ever questions that these are Germans. Judaism is not a nationality but a religion. Anyway even those ‘good Germans’ are having to eradicate any ‘Jewishness’ from their history to avoid any visits from Gestapo. Ridiculous as this may seem, this is part of our world history and Bernie is very good at mocking the whole system while trying to live within it.
As hotel detective, Bernie is responsible for security and dealing with any number of small or large complaints from guests. He is asked to respond to a wealthy hotel guest who is visiting on business from the States. He claims to have lost a very valuable wooden Chinese box. The night before a guest was seen in the company of a ‘lady of the night’ who seems to have disappeared and the gentleman whom she was with, to have died without warning. He was dreadfully overweight and probably had a heart attack but there is still the mystery of the woman who was nowhere to be found and his wallet and valuables untouched. These two stories plunge us headfirst into a mystery that culminates in Cuba. We hear Bernie’s commentary throughout the book and he is smart and witty albeit sometimes a little too sure of himself.