Bernie Gunther, the indomitable Berliner at the heart of this great series, is a man pummeled by history. As a young man, he survived the trench warfare of the Great War. In the 1920s he became an admired homicide detective in Berlin, but his loathing for the Nazis led him to quit and become a private detective when they seized power. Later, a Nazi leader, needing an honest investigator, forced Bernie to join the SS. While fighting on the Eastern Front, he was captured by the Soviets and sent to a brutal POW camp. But Bernie, the eternal survivor, outlasted the war, fled to Argentina and, at the start of this, the seventh novel in the series, seems finally to have caught a break.
It’s 1954, and Bernie is 58 and living in Batista’s Havana under a false identity. He has money, a boat and, as the story begins, a delightful prospect. A bikini-clad beauty in her early 20s, desperate to flee Cuba, implores him to take her to Haiti. Bernie, as lascivious as the next man, eagerly agrees — but his fantasy ends abruptly when a U.S. Navy patrol boat stops them on the high seas. The girl is arrested because she has killed someone for Fidel Castro. Bernie is arrested because he’s wanted for murder in Germany. Soon he’s in the custody of the CIA in New York, where he is questioned, none too gently, by gum-chewing, crew-cut Cold Warriors who think he’s a war criminal. Even after Bernie convinces the CIA questioners that he hated Hitler, they continue to interrogate him about Nazis and communists he knew in the old days.