Set just after the events of A
MAN WITHOUT BREATH, Philip Kerr's THE LADY FROM ZAGREB
is a slow burn of a novel and is something of a departure from earlier Bernie
Gunther is back in Berlin from
the Katyn Forest, traumatized by the atrocity he investigated and the lengths
he had to go to save his own neck. He's rattling around the Nazi capital,
getting roped into making a speech at an international criminal police conference
(and a small matter of a murder along the way) before getting a summons from Propaganda
Minster Geobbels. Turns out the Mahatma Propagandi has set his sights on a new female
conquest, having fallen in lust with Germany's rising star actress, Dalia
Dresner - the Lady from the book's title. Goebbels want her to be the star in
his bedroom as well as the star of the latest Nazi epic he has UFA working on but
she is reluctant to have anything to do with either propositions. To help
smooth things over, Goebbels decides to help her find her estranged father in
Czechoslovakia and Gunther's the man to do the job.
This is the point in a review
where the reviewer writes that a whole can of worms gets opened from there.
Not really the case here. The plot is paper thin. This time out, the story is
not about detective work. It's more about personal recovery. The plot of THE
LADY OF ZAGREB, if it can be called that, didn't hold this reader's
interest. Gunther immediately falls in love/lust with Dalia. He witnesses Czech
atrocities. He follows her (at the behest of Goebells) to Switzerland where
they resume their affair and an old, unsolved murder gets added to the one at
the conference that Gunther doesn't give a damn about and neither do we as the
solution to the crime is painfully obvious early on.
To be perfectly frank, if not for
Kerr's writing ability and the hypnotic voice of Bernie Gunther, this would be
the first of the series to receive a bad review here at Berlin Noir Reviews. Murders and slight intrigue aside, it's the
love story that dominates the novel and, honestly, doesn't do a very good job
of driving what passes for a story. Gunther is traumatized, he's not at his
best, and has for all intents and purposes given up on life so the love story
LADY OF ZAGREB is necessary to bring him back from the brink. That
makes perfect sense from the standpoint of where the character is at in his
life but it does not make for compelling reading.
The action and intrigue seem
thrown in as an afterthought, as if Kerr is realizing he's not writing a romance
but a historical police procedural. Gunther casually stumbles upon the
solutions to the murders while caught up in his love for Dalia and the need to
keep it from a jealous and lethal Goebbels.
If you are a fan of Bernie
Gunther, you won't mind taking this journey of recovery with him. This reader
didn't despite the book's shortcomings. If this is to be your first Gunther,
look elsewhere. Same goes if you're looking forward to diving into a great
whodunnit. THE LADY FROM ZAGREB does not fit the bill in either of
those cases. If, however, you're in the mood for a brooding character study
that moves well and is lightly seasoned with a bit of action, intrigue and
murder, then you'll enjoy this one. Kerr is an excellent writer and will keep
you turning the pages. Gunther will return next year in THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE
and we can hope he'll be more of his old self in the forthcoming novel.
This is the weakest Bernie Gunther book I've read to date. It's a testament to Kerr's writing ability that I still give it two thumbs up. Even sub-standard Gunther is better than the majority of thrillers being published today. If you go in with the right expectations, THE LADY FROM ZAGREB provides a satisfying reading experience. If you're in the mood for a riveting page-turner, I'd recommend other entries in the series. This one's a love it or hate it read depending on your mood when you dive in. I enjoyed the book but was not blind to where it falls short. Perhaps reading it immediately after A MAN WITHOUT BREATH would make a satisfying one-two punch. On it's own, THE LADY FROM ZAGREB falls a bit short.