The Lady from Zagreb (A Bernie Gunther Novel)

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9780399167645: The Lady from Zagreb (A Bernie Gunther Novel)

In this Edgar® Award-nominated novel in Philip Kerr’s New York Times bestselling series, former detective and unwilling SS officer Bernie Gunther is on the hunt for a beautiful femme fatale...
 
Berlin, 1942. Three players take the stage. The first, a gorgeous actress—the rising star of a giant German film company controlled by the Propaganda Ministry. The second, the very clever, very dangerous Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels—a close confidant of Hitler, ambitious schemer, and flagrant libertine. Finally, there's Bernie Gunther—a former Berlin homicide bull now forced to run errands at the Propaganda Minister’s command.

When Goebbels tasks Bernie with finding the woman the press have dubbed the German Garbo,” his errand takes him from Zurich to Zagreb to the killing fields of Croatia. It is there that Bernie finds himself in a world of mindless brutality where everyone has a hidden agenda—perfect territory for a true cynic whose instinct is to trust no one.

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About the Author:

Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels, two of which—Field Gray and The Lady from Zagreb—were finalists for the Edgar® Award for Best Novel. Kerr has also won several Shamus Awards and the British Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Award for Historical Crime Fiction. As P. B. Kerr, he is the author of the much-loved young adult fantasy series Children of the Lamp.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

I awoke from a long but agitated sleep to a world that was black and white but mostly black, with silver piping. I’d stolen some Luminal from General Heydrich’s country house outside Prague to help me sleep. He didn’t need it for the simple reason that he was dead and I certainly wouldn’t have stolen it from him otherwise. But pills were even harder to get than booze which, like everything else, was in short supply and I needed them because as an officer in the SD I was a part of the horror now, much more than Heydrich. He was dead, buried the month before with full military honors with a clove of garlic in his mouth and a stake through his heart. He was well out of it, his last thoughts of revenge upon his Czech assassins still suspended inside his elongated El Greco head like so much frozen gray mud and there was no more harm he could do anyone. But in my wretched efforts to stay alive at almost any cost I could still hurt and be hurt in my turn, and as long as death’s black barrel organ was playing it seemed I would have to dance to the cheerless, doom-filled tune that was turning inexorably on the drum, like some liveried monkey with a terrified rictus on its face and a tin cup in its hand. That didn’t make me unusual; just German.

Berlin had a haunted look that summer, as if behind every tree and around each street corner was a screaming skull or some wide-eyed and shape-shifting alp. Sometimes when I woke in my bed at the flat in Fasanenstrasse, soaked with sweat, it was as if I’d had some demon sitting on my chest, crushing the breath out of me and, in my rush to draw a breath and check that I was still alive, I often heard myself cry out and reach to grab at the sour air I had exhaled during the day, which was when I slept. And usually I lit a cigarette with the alacrity of someone who needed the tobacco smoke to breathe a little more comfortably and to help overcome the omnipresent taste of mass murder and human decay that stayed in my mouth like an old and rotten tooth.

The summer sunshine brought no joy. It seemed to exercise a sinister effect, making Berliners irritable with the broiling heat because there was nothing but water to drink, and reminding them always of how much hotter it probably was on the dry steppes of Russia and Ukraine, where our boys were now fighting a battle that already looked like much more than we had bargained for. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows in the tenement streets around Alexanderplatz and played tricks on your eyes, so that the phosphenes on your retinas - the after-effects of the mercilessly bright light - seemed to become the greenish auras of so many dead men. It was in the shadows where I belonged and where I felt comfortable, like an old spider that simply wants to be left alone. Only there wasn’t much chance of that. It always paid to be careful what you were good at in Germany. Once I’d been a good detective in Kripo, but that was a while ago, before the criminals wore smart gray uniforms and nearly everyone locked up was innocent. Being a Berlin cop in 1942 was a little like putting down mousetraps in a cage full of tigers.

On Heydrich’s orders I’d been working nights at the police praesidium on Alexanderplatz, which suited me just fine. There was no proper police work to speak of but I had little or no appetite for the company of my Nazi colleagues or their callous conversation. The Murder Commission, what remained of it –which existed to investigate homicides - left me to my own devices, like a forgotten prisoner whose face meant death for anyone unwise enough to catch a glimpse of it. I was none too fond of it myself. Unlike Hamburg and Bremen, there were no night-time air-raids to speak of, which left the city sepulchrally quiet, so very different from the Berlin of the Weimar years when it had been the noisiest and most exciting city on earth. All that neon, all that jazz, and more especially all that freedom when nothing was hidden and nobody had to hide who or what they were – it was hard to believe things had ever been like that. But Weimar Berlin had suited me better. The Weimar Republic had been the most democratic of democracies and yet, like all great democracies, it had been a little out of control. Prior to 1933, anything was permitted since as Socrates learned to his cost, the true nature of democracy is to encourage corruption and excess in all its forms. But the corruption and excesses of Weimar were still preferable to the Biblical abominations now perpetrated in the name of the Nuremberg Laws. I don’t think I ever knew what mortal sin really meant until I lived in Nazi Germany.

Sometimes, when I stared out of my office window at night I caught sight of my own reflection staring back at me – the same but different, like another ill-defined version of myself, a darker alter-ego, my evil twin or perhaps a harbinger of death. Now and then I heard this ghostly, etiolated double speak sneeringly to me: “Tell me, Gunther, just what will you have to do and whose arse will you kiss to save your miserable skin today?”

It was a good question.

From my office eyrie in the east corner tower of police headquarters I could more often hear the sound of steam trains pulling in and out of the station on Alexanderplatz. You could just see the roof – what was left of it – of the old orthodox synagogue on Kaiser-Strasse, which I think had been there since before the Franco-Prussian war and was one of the largest synagogues in Germany, with as many as eighteen-hundred worshippers. Which is to say, Jews. The Kaiser-Strasse synagogue was on a beat I’d patrolled as a young Schupo in the early twenties.

Sometimes I would chat to some of the boys who attended the Jewish Boys’ School and who used to go trainspotting at the station. Once, another uniformed copper saw me talking to those boys and asked, “what do you find to talk about with these Jews, anyway?” And I’d replied that they were just children and that we had talked about what you talk about with any other children. Of course, all that was before I found out that I had a trickle of Jew blood myself. Still, maybe it explains why I was nice to them. But I prefer to think it doesn’t explain very much at all.

It had been a while since I’d seen any Jewish boys on Kaiser-Strasse. Since the beginning of June they’d been deporting Berlin’s Jews from a transit camp at Grosse Hamburger Strasse to destinations somewhere in the east, although it was becoming better known that the destinations were more final than some nebulous compass-point. Mostly the deportations were made at night when there was no one around to see it done but one morning, at about five a.m., when I was checking out a pretty theft at Anhalter Station, I saw about fifty elderly Jews being loaded into closed cars on an impatient train. They looked like something Pieter Brueghel might have painted back in a time when Europe was a much more barbarous place than it is now – when kings and emperors committed their black crimes in the open light of day, and not at a time when no one was yet out of bed to see them. The cars didn’t seem so bad but by then I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen to those Jews, which I expect was more than they did otherwise I can’t imagine they’d ever have boarded those trains.

I was on the point of being moved along by an old Berlin Schupo until I flashed him my beer-token and told him to go and fuck himself.

“Sorry sir,” he said, touching his leather shako smartly, “I didn’t know you was RSHA.”

“Where’s this lot headed?” I asked.

“Somewhere in Bohemia. Thereisinstadt, I think they said it’s called. You feel almost sorry for them, don’t you? But I reckon it’s better for them and for us, really. I mean, us Germans. They’ll have a better life there, living among their own in a new town, won’t they?”

“Not in Thereisinstadt they won’t,” I told him. “I’ve just got back from Bohemia.” And then I told him all I knew about the place and a bit more besides, about what was happening in Russia and Ukraine. The look of horror on the man’s florid face was almost worth the risk I took in telling him the unvarnished and unpalatable truth.

“You can’t be serious,” he said.

“Oh, but I am. It’s fact that we’re systematically murdering people by the thousands out there, in the swamps east of Poland. I know. I’ve seen it for myself. And by ‘we’ I mean us, the police. The RSHA. It’s us that’s doing the murdering.”

The Schupo blinked hard and looked as if I’d said something incomprehensible. “It can’t be true, what you just said, sir. Surely you’re joking.”

“I’m not joking. What I just told you is the one true thing you’ll probably hear today. Just ask around, only try to do it discretely. People don’t like talking about this, for obvious reasons. You could get into trouble. We both could. I’m telling you, those Jews are on a slow train to hell. And so are we.”

I walked away smiling sadistically to myself; in Nazi Germany truth makes a  powerful weapon.
But it was one of those RSHA murderers who brought me in from the cold. An Austrian, Ernst Kaltenbrunner was rumored to be the next chief of the Reich Main Office for Security – the RHSA - but the same rumor said that his appointment could not be approved by Hitler until the man had finished drying out at a sanatorium in Chur, Switzerland. This left Kripo in the forensically capable if thoroughly murderous hands of General Arthur Nebe who, until the previous November, had commanded SS Operation Group B in Byelorussia. Group B was now commanded by someone else but if what was bruited about the Alex was correct – and I had good reason to think it probably was – Nebe’s men had killed more than forty-five thousand people before he finally earned his ticket back to Berlin.

Forty-five thousand. A number like that was hard to comprehend in the context of murder.

Berlin’s Sportspalast, where the Nazis held some of their rallies, had a capacity of fourteen thousand. Three whole Sportspalasts full of people who were there to cheer a speech by Goebbels. That’s what forty-five thousand looked like. Except none of those murdered had cheered, of course.

I wondered what Nebe told his wife, Elise and his daughter, Gisela about what he’d been doing out in Ivan’s swamps. Gisela was a beautiful young woman of seventeen now and I knew Arthur doted on her. She was intelligent, too. Did she ever ask him about his work in the SS? Or did she see something elusive in her father’s fox-like eyes and then just talk about something else, the way people used to do when the subject of the Great War had come up in conversation. I never knew anyone who was comfortable talking about that, certainly not me. If you hadn’t been in the trenches there was no point in expecting anyone even to imagine what it was like. Not that Arthur Nebe had anything to feel ashamed about back then; as a young lieutenant in his pioneer battalion with the 17th Army (1st West Prussian) Corps on the eastern front, he’d been gassed twice and won a first class Iron Cross. Nebe was none too fond of the Russians as a result but it was unthinkable that he would ever have told his family that he’d spent the summer of 1941 murdering forty-five thousand Jews. But Nebe knew that I knew and somehow he could still look me in the eye; and while we didn’t talk about it, what was surprising to me more than him was the fact that I could tolerate his company, just about.  I figured that if I could work for Heydrich I could work for anyone. I wouldn’t say we were ever friends, Nebe and me. We got along all right although I never understood how someone who had plotted against Hitler as early as 1938 could have become a mass-murderer with such apparent equanimity. Nebe had tried to explain this, when we were in Minsk. He’d told me that he needed to keep his remarkable nose clean long enough for him and his friends to get another opportunity to kill Hitler; I just didn’t see how that justified the murders of forty-five thousand Jews. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand now.

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Descripción G.P. Putnam s Sons, 2015. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In this Edgar(R) Award-nominated novel in Philip Kerr s New York Times bestselling series, former detective and unwilling SS officer Bernie Gunther is on the hunt for a beautiful femme fatale. Berlin, 1942. Three players take the stage. The first, a gorgeous actress--the rising star of a giant German film company controlled by the Propaganda Ministry. The second, the very clever, very dangerous Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels--a close confidant of Hitler, ambitious schemer, and flagrant libertine. Finally, there s Bernie Gunther--a former Berlin homicide bull now forced to run errands at the Propaganda Minister s command. When Goebbels tasks Bernie with finding the woman the press have dubbed the German Garbo, his errand takes him from Zurich to Zagreb to the killing fields of Croatia. It is there that Bernie finds himself in a world of mindless brutality where everyone has a hidden agenda--perfect territory for a true cynic whose instinct is to trust no one. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780399167645

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