Friday, July 27, 2007

Literature: Hitler’s Peace by Philip Kerr

British author Philip Kerr is perhaps best known for his German trilogy, Berlin Noir, made up of three novels: March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991) all based on the Berlin private investigator Bernard Gunther. The next installment of the series, The One From the Other appeared in 2006. A highlight of all four novels is Kerr’s artistic ability to make historic figures like Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich come to life, as well as, capturing the texture of the political duplicity of the time, during and after World War II. Kerr’s 2005 novel Hitler’s Peace builds on these two talents bringing figures like Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin into close and formidable focus.

The erstwhile protagonist of this story is philosophy professor/OSS agent Willard Mayer. The youthful Ivy League-educated empirical philosopher is employed by the Office of Strategic Services without that offices knowledge of Mayer’s pro-communist past and membership in the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence service, and as an informer for Russia's Internal Affairs Commissariat, the NKVD. For the Yanks, Mayer serves as an intelligence analyst for the OSS in Washington. Mayer takes leave with Roosevelt to Teheran, for the Big Three conference in November 1943 aboard the USS Iowa. While in transit Mayer detects what he thinks to be a conspiracy to assassinate Joseph Stalin.

At this same time, Hitler and Himmler, wanting to diplomatically deter engaging the U.S. in a second European front, are seeking a loophole in Roosevelt's demand for an unconditional surrender. The ethically conflicted Professor Mayer finds himself waist deep in alligators while forgetting he was sent to drain the swamp. Revealed in the Big Three negotiations are even more convoluted schemes, including one by an SS general assassinates Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill while in Tehran.

Kerr has shown himself quite capable of spinning World War II yarns with the smell of sandalwood and cordite. Hitler’s Peace is an intricately conceived and delicately paced thriller. While The Pale Criminal remains Kerr’s finest work, Hitler’s Peace continues to prove Kerr’s popularity across the pond.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007