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Hitler's Peace Paperback – August 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy will prize this briskly paced WWII-era spy thriller, which boasts plot twists that will keep readers' heads spinning even after they've put it down. For Willard Mayer, a 35-year-old Harvard-educated empirical philosopher, the roots of pro-Communist realpolitiking run deep. A former Princeton professor who was also a member of the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence service, and an informer for Russia's notorious Internal Affairs Commissariat, the NKVD, Mayer during the war works as an intelligence analyst for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington—which remains unaware of his past. En route to Tehran, at Roosevelt's insistence, for the Big Three conference in November 1943 aboard the USS Iowa, Mayer believes he's uncovered a plot to assassinate Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, Hitler and Himmler, eager to avoid engaging the U.S. in a second European front, are trying to figure out how to get around Roosevelt's demand for an unconditional surrender. The ethically compromised Mayer finds himself in the thick of the negotiations even as larger plots are afoot, including one by an SS general to bomb Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in Tehran. Kerr is as interested in backdoor diplomatic efforts as he is in espionage and assassination, and this highly entertaining spy fiction also explores the moral quandaries of war and realpolitik.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
It's always a treat to see what fresh intrigue has aroused this versatile British author's interests. Here Kerr fleshes out one of history's great might-have-beens. During the crucial autumn of 1943, when, after the crushing defeat of Germany on the Eastern Front, it became clear to leaders on all sides that Hitler would lose, the Big Three (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin) headed to a secret summit in Tehran to discuss strategy. Our windows onto these vertiginous dealings are the German intelligence officer Walter Schellenberger, obliged to play the great game of espionage in a schoolyard increasingly crowded with homicidal bullies, and American philosophy professor Willard Mayer, recruited by his president to help parse whether Hitler or Stalin is the lesser evil and who winds up playing a role in world events that is anything but academic. Occasional flashes of action and a few jaw-dropping twists notwithstanding, Kerr's leisurely narrative stays fairly close to real events, larded with credible details and curious true incidents--such as the near-sinking of FDR's battleship by friendly fire. This is an excellent crossover suggestion for history buffs and a fine choice for those who enjoy the informative thrillers of Robert Harris or Robert Littell. David Wright
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is not the first book of Kerr's with what some might consider a questionable ending. A Man Without Breath also had a doubtful but still somewhat believable conclusion. Plus, any good work of fiction does require some suspension of belief. But here you about have to cease all normal brain function or know nothing about history, or both. In addition, the book is an insult to any intelligent and educated person, most certainly to the allied leadership of World War II, excluding Winston Churchill (who is not insulted!), and unreservedly to the men and women who fought to end the evil begun by Hitler, to say nothing about his victims.
Kerr, in my opinion, has done himself a disservice with this book. His others, and I have read them all except for A Quiet Flame (which I intend to read along with his newest novel when it's available), are all winners, made all the better by Bernie Gunther's senses of humor and pathos, some of the same of which showed up in this novel through protagonist Willard Mayer. But, like the proverbial "Attaboy Award," they are not enough to overcome the obvious flaws and fantasies upon which Hitler's Peace is based.
Germany was seeking a separate peace with one or another of its enemies. Each meanwhile worried about Germany's successfully doing so with someone else. And top Nazis clashed with each other over whether to make peace, as they also jockeyed for present or postwar position. Hovering over all of this is emerging knowledge about atrocities including the Holocaust, the Katyn massacre in Poland and Soviet treatment of German POWs after Stalingrad. This makes great fictional fodder, and Philip Kerr delivers with a maelstrom of intrigue.
Kerr, author of the very fine "Berlin Noir" trilogy of detective stories set in Nazi and postwar Germany, centers the action here on Willard Mayer, an American professor now with the OSS and detailed first to do some research on Katyn for Roosevelt, and later to accompany him to the conference. Mayer discovers their entourage has been penetrated by a German agent.
Mayer has a politically checkered past. Descended from German society on one side, he moves easily into high Nazi circles and works with the German Abwehr in the late 1930s, but only after his philosophical leanings have already brought him into Communist circles in the early 1930s in Vienna, leading him to the Soviet NKVD. And then he chucks it all in short order to move back to the States and, within a few years, get spotted by the OSS.
Is that all clear? It seems unlikely that an American would so effortlessly rise up into a sensitive Nazi position. And in the real world, the NKVD, having enlisted him, would never let him quit so blithely; Stalin's spies would have hunted him down. And the OSS, meanwhile, sends him to the Oval Office with no idea of any of this?
Kerr, with his detective story background, writes Mayer in a first-person private-eye mold, sometimes Philip Marlowe, sometimes Nick and Nora Charles, all wisecracks and martinis. But he's not consistent with it. Meanwhile much of the story is related through other characters' eyes, without the "lishen-shweetheart" style at all, and it's jarring to go back and forth. Nor does it seem to go with the more fateful World War II subject matter. Kerr casts Mayer variously as an elbow-patched philosophy professor, the author of a musty and difficult book; as a swinging sophisticate, as a jilted lover, as a conscience-driven man of action, as an intelligence agent who successfully turns the Abwehr-NKVD-OSS trifecta, none of them the wiser. There are too many ingredients in this cocktail and Kerr never really gets them all to blend.
He's better in his personalization of American leaders like Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins. And best of all is his treatment of Axis bigwigs like Schellenberg, Canaris, Hitler, von Ribbentrop and particularly Himmler. No one writes Nazis in English like Kerr does.
His plot, whirling to a startling climax in Teheran, keeps you guessing until the last page. And he admirably includes - I wish more intrigue writers did this - an afterword noting the many unexplained anomalies of the Teheran conference that might open the door to Kerr's tantalizing scenario. I'm docking him a star for his problems writing Mayer, but the history he brings to bear and the plot he synthesizes out of it are otherwise great reading for the World War II fiction buff.
Yes, it's a work of fiction, of the author's creative imagination. But to posit a seemingly affable mid-war conference among Roosevelt, Stalin and Hitler, no less -- with a rather buffoonish Churchill smoking cigars peevishly in the wings -- is to exceed all credulity, no matter how willing the reader. And the hapless professor-cum-translator (and narrator), Willard Mayer, seems almost a caricature -- very unlike the complex, cynical yet ultimately virtuous Bernie Gunther.
Kerr's previous works in this genre have been notable for accuracy of historical detail. But in "Hitler's Peace," small glitches reinforced this reader's impression that it seems rather thrown together. In Chapter 18, reference is made to "Panzer tanks" armed with 88-millimeter cannon. In German, "Panzer" is the generic word for a tank, or armored fighting vehicle; all tanks are Panzers. (And in German, all nouns are capitalized.) Perhaps the author was thinking of the Panther, a medium tank the Germans fielded in 1943 to counter the Soviet T-34, but the Panther was armed with a 75mm gun. The powerful if ponderous German heavy tank that carried an 88mm cannon was the Tiger. In chapter 21, when the Führer puts in his unlikely appearance, he's wearing "a brown military tunic." During the war, Hitler invariably wore a gray uniform jacket in the Wehrmacht style, not a brown Nazi Party jacket. No German armed service during the Nazi era wore brown uniforms. (And, speaking of thrown together, this reader's Penguin paperback copy contained 15 duplicate pages.)
The story is embroidered with various trysts and crimes, and these detours -- many ostensibly built on actual events -- make for a complex plot that some readers may find intriguing. But over all, "Hitler's Peace" seemed to lack the sparkle and grit of Kerr's previous historical mysteries.
-- Steven Anderson