Field Gray by Philip Kerr
(Putnam, $26.95, 435 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-15741-7)
Have you ever thought about your dreams, noticed how real they seem when you’re asleep? But then when you awake, it’s just in time to escape, or lose the elusive goal that’s always just out of reach? That’s how mine end anyway. But what if you couldn’t wake up? What if your nightmare never ended? What then? How would you act? What would you do?
That’s the situation Bernie Gunther, the protagonist of British author Philip Kerr’s latest: Field Gray finds himself in; a personal nightmare that’s been going on for 25 years.
The novel begins in 1954, in pre-communist Cuba. Then, in a series of flashbacks, it details the career of Bernard Gunther, a moral German, honest cop, and ace homicide detective who resigns from the Berlin Police force in 1932, rather than be compelled to join the National Socialist, or Nazi party. He works as a private eye in Berlin before and during World War II until 1940, when he is dragooned into the SS by General Reinhard Heydrich. Gunther’s proximity to many high-ranking Nazi war criminals and communists makes him a prime object of the American, British and French spy agencies in the early days of the cold war. He’s captured, imprisoned and pressed into espionage service by various spy agencies in turn as they all try to use him for their own devices. The novel is meticulous, intricately plotted and complex. It will appeal to fans of Graham Greene and John LeCarre, or anyone who enjoys books which make them think. An added bonus for long-time mystery readers: the ending is so ingenious you’ll never see it coming until the trap door opens and you drop through. A great read.