A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr

‘A Man Without Breath’ is the 9th Bernie Gunther novel by Philip Kerr, and is set in 1943, mostly in Smolensk in Russia.

Bernie, a Berlin homicide detective, is now working for the German War Crimes Bureau. Their role is to prove war crimes against the allies in the hope of weakening the alliance and/or making the Germans look less bad.

When the body of a Polish Soldier is found in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Bernie is sent to investigate. There are rumours that over 20,000 Polish soldiers were executed by the Russians and buried in mass graves in the area.

But things don’t go quite as planned in Smolensk. It is winter and the Germans must wait for a thaw before exhuming bodies. Documentation and witnesses to the atrocity are found, but every time Bernie comes close to having proof against the Russians, the proof goes missing or the witnesses are murdered. So, while waiting for the thaw, Bernie ends up investigating a number of murders that have occurred in Smolensk. This of course raises the question of the value of finding a murderer in a country that is guilty of mass murder.

Smolensk is an enclave of German nobility, some of whom have their own secrets and reasons for not wanting Bernie to succeed. And, there is incredible tension in Smolensk – it is only a short time since the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad and it seems to be only a matter of time before Smolensk is retaken by the Russians.


This book was another excellent addition to the Bernie Gunther series. Many of the events and characters are based on fact. As long as you don’t try to think about Bernie being involved in every major event of WWII, this makes for a great history lesson.

This novel included a romance which I found fairly irrelevant and I don’t think added much to the story. The story also seemed to drag a bit in some sections.

As usual the book is full of Bernie’s sarcastic wit. At times Bernie struggles to keep his hero status in this book, He is more concerned with surviving than doing the right thing. I’m looking forward to the next novel to see if he can continue to manage this.


Book Published 2013



See a full list of books by Philip Kerr

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Filed under Book Reviews, Crime, Historical, Kerr, Philip, Series Fiction

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