It’s a fast-paced thriller set in Germany in 1964, but not the historical Germany of that date, because Hitler is approaching his 75th birthday, and Germany had won the Second World War ‘“ it’s historical fiction that never was ‘“ an alternative history. And yet many of the characters actually existed, their biographies are correct up to 1942 and Harris quotes from authentic documents in the book. The Berlin of the book is the Berlin that Albert Speer planned to build.
What is definite is that this is a murder mystery, beginning with the discovery of the naked body of an old man, lying half in the Havel, a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. The homicide investigator is Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (the Kripo) and the victim is Josef Buhler, one of the former leading members of the Nazi Party who had been instrumental in devising ‘˜the final solution’. As March digs deeper, despite being taken off the case by the Gestapo, he discovers a larger conspiracy as more of the former leading Nazis are murdered.
March is in some ways a typical cop, disillusioned, sceptical and suspicious of authority. He’s also divorced and losing the respect of his son, with disastrous effects. He isn’t the only one investigating the deaths. Charlie Maguire, a female American journalist has her own reasons for wanting to uncover the murderer and together they travel to Zurich to inspect the private Swiss bank account of one of the victims.
It’s a complex book and leads March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth. It’s a real page-turner, full of suspense and consequently I read it very quickly, eager to know what happened next and what lay behind the murders. The ending is suitably ambiguous – it’s not the sort of book where all the loose ends are neatly tied up. Neither is the alternative history element dominant, although I did find all the little details fascinating. For example Churchill and the Royal Family have gone to Canada and Joseph Kennedy is the US president. It is predominantly crime fiction, that makes you think about the nature of good and evil and about the ways in which society handles corruption.