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Topic: Kerr's Hitler's Peace, a novel  (Read 5643 times)
Tacitus
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Posts: 74



« on: April 11, 2008, 02:49:31 PM »

One big whammy of a twist, too flat overall

Fans of Kerr's brilliant Berlin Noir trilogy (such as myself), will likely be dismayed by this WWII thriller. The brooding mood and fine detail that made that series so memorable is almost entirely absent in this high-level espionage escapade. Which is not to say it isn't entertaining, because it is a reasonable beach/airplane page-turner. But at the heart, it's just a run of the mill 450 page potboiler.

The book's protagonist is Prof. Willard Mayer, an American professor of empirical philosophy now employed as an analyst for the OSS due to his pre-war German background and language skills. He is asked by President Roosevelt to evaluate a report on the Katyn Forest Massacre, in which thousands of Polish officers were killed by the Soviets (remember, the Polish were Allied forces). Later, the President asks him to be part of his staff heading to the Tehran Conference where the "Big Three" (Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill) would meet to strategize about the war and bargain about what would happen afterward. En route, Mayer slowly starts to believe he has uncovered some kind of plot to kill one of the Big Three, and most of the middle of the book has him poking around trying to prove this in the face of much skepticism. Meanwhile, we get a lot of stuff from the German side, including Gen. Schellenberg's audacious plot to kill the Big Three, and thus with a single stroke, change the entire complexion of the war.

Mayer, a protagonist bordering on anti-hero, is entirely self-centered, pretentious, and irritating. His major transformation near the end feels totally unconvincing and ends the book on a particularly flat note. His presence also gives Kerr an excuse to inject a tiresome running debate concerning moral tradeoffs and realpolitik that reads high-school stuff -- on the level of "If you could go back in time and shoot Hitler, would you? Would that be a moral act?"

Schellenberg is a much more interesting character, and the sections set in Germany tend to be the stronger ones. The entire book is populated by historical figures, who tend to overshadow everything else when they are on stage. All the usual suspects are there, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Himmler, Borman, Goering, et al, but we also get a surprisingly indiscreet Kim Philby, as well as Lord Rothschild , and even Evelyn Waugh makes a rather silly cameo.

Definitely not what fans of the Berlin Noir trilogy would have hoped for. Those who enjoy WWII thrillers will probably be a lot more forgiving -- after all, it is a pretty good read when compared with most of the genre. And to Kerr's credit, he does manage to unveil one big whammy of a twist and his fictionalization of famous historical figures rises well above caricature.




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