New mystery and thriller books set in the midst of world wars

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The mysteries and thrillers set in the surrounding years and during our two world wars have become a cottage industry. From Ken Follett’s “Eye of the Needle” in the 1980s to recent novels by Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear, the stars blend enough story with more familiar elements of the genre to keep readers informed and entertained.

Philip Kerr achieved this alchemy through seven books in the Bernie Gunther series while advancing his complex hero into the Cold War. In “Prague Fatale” (Marion Wood / Putnam: 401 pp., $ 26.95), Kerr returns to 1941. Bernie is awakened by suicidal thoughts caused by his intelligence work in Belarus because of two murders in Berlin, the charms of a beautiful checkered girl attacked by one of the dead men and summoned to Prague by the hated SS General Reinhard Heydrich.

Newly appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich requisitioned a castle that once belonged to a Jewish sugar baron and patron of artist Gustav Klimt and invited a dozen high-ranking SS officers for a weekend of good food and alcohol, a rarity in the privations of war. Germany. But a recent poisoning attempt prompted Heydrich to ask his “friend” to serve as his personal bodyguard, an offer Bernie dares not refuse. “Working for Heydrich,” Bernie notes, “it was like being friendly with a vicious tomcat while you looked for the nearest mouse hole.”

Bernie is soon investigating a murder, but it’s Captain Albert Kuttner, one of Heydrich’s four warrant officers. Kuttner’s body is found in his locked bedroom after an alcohol-fueled party that leaves guests hungover and unable to hear the gunshots. But after interacting with guests like evil Nazis Richard Hildebrandt, Colonel Walter Jacobi, and Hans Ulrich Geschke of the Prague Gestapo, Bernie is faced with the biggest conundrum: How to find a murderer in a castle full of criminals?

Echoing the work of Agatha Christie, Kerr probes the mysterious device of the locked room and applies his extensive knowledge of German history to unearth the filth, political and personal, of a group of real-life villains while revealing a deeper mystery that Bernie must solve, however, at a price almost too high to pay.

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Another type of prize is demanded in William Boyd’s “Waiting for the sunset” (Harper: 353 pp., $ 25.99), the story of a young actor swept away by World War I and the nascent British intelligence effort. In 1913 in Vienna, on a “lemony” August day full of “this possibility of daring”, Lysander Rief, 27, sat in the waiting room of a disciple of Sigmund Freud, seeking the “remedy of Vienna ”for a sexual illness he fears. will make him an inappropriate husband. Among the other clients in the analyst’s waiting room is the captivating Hettie Bull, a nervous beauty who is as aggressive and daring as her name. Despite Hettie’s jealous lover, Lysander and Hettie fall into an erotic adventure that, unsurprisingly, seems to heal him. It also exposes him to a rape charge which sends him to seek help from Allwyn Munro, another patient of the analyst, who works for the British Embassy. Munro lends him money for the deposit, but “not without interest, alas”.

Following Lysander’s ingenious escape from Vienna and returning to his acting career in London, Munro reappears to reclaim the loan, forcing Lysander to enlist in the British Army and fake his own death as a prelude to a mission. dangerous in Geneva. He wants Lysander to unmask an agent who is leaking information to the Germans. The resulting action tests the young man’s courage and sense of loyalty far beyond his imagination.

Although the novel suffers from a few too many coincidences and too leisurely a pace, Boyd (a literary novelist best known to genre readers for “Any Human Heart” and “Restless”) does an admirable job of evoking the sensuality of l ‘Viennese avant-garde. , the horrors of the battlefield and the early days of British espionage. But it is the evolution of a nation that is ultimately the most compelling feature of “Waiting for Sunrise”. Like Lysander Rief, England at the end of the Great War went from the sun’s clear distinction between good and evil to shade, where friend from foe and traitors are almost indistinguishable. of those who love us.

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Woods is the author of the Charlotte Justice mystery series.


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