This is the 20th Bernie Gunther novel. It would perhaps be harsh to call it formulaic but they have become predictable. I never criticise a popular author who makes his living from a character, plenty have done so normally in the murder mystery genre. Kerr has branched out with Scott Manson, a premier league coach who solves crime in the football world.
The strength of Kerr is that he does research his books fully. This is set in Nazi Germany, Croatia and Switzerland. The violent and opaque geopolitics of Yugoslavia then are well depicted and does much to explain the subsequent barbarities in the region. I never knew that the vile anti-Semite The Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem who spent much of the war by Hitler’s side was charged with the formation of a SS regiment of Croatian Muslims to murder Jews. Nor that Switzerland was prepared to blow its mountain passes if invaded by Germany. .
The plot too moves along at a fast pace. Gunther has to locate the father of a well-known actress, the title of the book, in Croatia at the behest of Goebbels who is head of the film studio. The Minister of Truth wants to bed her. It is Gunther that does so in not very convincing romantic and sexual narrative.
The weakness of Kerr lies in the writing. He adopts a Chandleresque style which does not not work. Chandler was a gifted and witty writer. His detective, like Gunther, is a wise cracking nonconformist but there the similarity ends. You have odd descriptive words like a “nail” for a cigarette. Often the style jars. There is too much incident in the plot but, this said, intelligent reflection by Gunther, on how the country of Goethe and Beethoven could descend to such barbarity and the absurd dogma of Hitler .
At the end in the author’s acknowledement we are promised a 21st Bernie. I am sure I will read and enjoy it but I doubt if it would better the powerful impression that the first trilogy The March Violets made.