Field Grey refers to the colour of the uniform of SS Field Officers. At the end of this novel, that’s probably the only thing that’s really clear in my mind. I found the novel extremely confusing as it switched times (1954 – pre WWII and WWII years) and places (Cuba, US, Germany, France, Russia). I found myself exhausted trying to keep up. This is the seventh novel featuring Bernie Gunther but the first that I’ve read. I think that knowing a bit about Bernie would have helped me with this book.
In 1954 Bernie Gunther is escaping from Cuba (by boat) where his real identity has been discovered. During the escape, he is picked up by the US and taken to Guantanamo Bay. He is eventually transferred to Europe as a suspected war criminal (or maybe they never really suspected him but just felt he could be useful).
Before the war Bernie was acquainted with a communist – Erich Mielke. Mielke went on to become a high ranking communist after the war. This relationship is probably the main theme of the book and the reason for the US interest in Bernie Gunther.
However, the interrogation of Bernie in 1954 brings to light Bernie’s life during the war, mostly through flashbacks to Bernie’s past.
Bernie never joined the Nazi party – in fact he hated them and what they stood for. But, as a Berlin police detective he had very little choice about being absorbed into the SS. As part of the SS, Bernie witnessed and in some cases took part in some truly horrendous crimes. As a non-Nazi, this was mostly a case of survival. The novel takes us through events in Bernie’s war years in Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.
Bernie’s hatred is not confined to the Nazi’s – he seems to hate just about everyone – communists, French, Americans, etc.
There’s a lot of double-crossing and triple-crossing going on and Bernie’s actions at the end of the book came as a complete surprise to me.
This book is one for the history lovers as it is full of historical content – almost overwhelmingly so. I guess it’s also fairly even-handed as it is pretty damning to everyone involved in pre-war Europe, WWII and the Cold War.
I hope that reading some earlier Bernie Gunther books (of which I’ve heard very good reports) will help me get a better handle on this one.
Book Published 2010