A German Requiem (novel)
|Genre||Crime, Detective, Historical mystery|
|Published||1991 (Viking Press, London)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback and Paperback)|
|LC Class||PR6061.E784 G47 1991|
|Preceded by||The Pale Criminal|
After spending the latter part of the war in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp, 1947 sees Bernhard Günther now married to a wife who is trading sex with U.S. Army officers for scarce goods. Berlin and Vienna were captured by the Red Army, so Germans, former Nazis, Allied occupiers and Günther have the Russians to contend with. An old colleague from Günther's days in Berlin, a dirty cop, war criminal, and smuggler named Emil Becker, has been accused and jailed in Vienna for the killing of an American officer called Linden. A high-ranking MVD officer named Poroshin, who claims to be a friend of Becker, tries to recruit Günther to investigate the case and get Becker exonerated in exchange for a large fee. According to Poroshin, after acting as a secret Vienna-Berlin courier for a certain König, Becker was framed for the murder of Linden, who Becker had met through König.
Günther takes a train to Vienna and visits Becker in jail, where he learns that Becker's henchmen had been killed trying to find König and his girlfriend Lotte Hartmann at Becker's request. Günther starts his investigation in Vienna, by attending Linden's funeral, where he is accosted by Roy Shields, an American MP. At approximately the same time, Günther rescues a recent acquaintance, Veronika, a local prostitute he met as part of the investigation, from rape by two Russian soldiers. As part of the intervention, Günther gets knocked down and is himself rescued in extremis by John Belinsky, a man bearing identification associating him with the American Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) that had been covertly tailing him. They fraternize, Belinsky admits to also being investigating the murder of Linden, and they agree to collaborate.
When Günther discovers the whereabouts of Lotte Hartman, he teams up with Belinsky to organize a scheme in which Günther and Lotte would be somehow about be arrested and jailed by the Russians, so that Günther could ingratiate himself with her by obtaining her freedom. The scheme works and Günther is eventually approached by König, who wants to repay him from springing Lotte. After they meet, König is impressed by Günther's past credentials and eventually, recruits him in a secret organization of former Nazis called the "Org", which Günther accepts to infiltrate with the knowledge of Belinsky. Günther soon finds out that Becker was also in the Org, for which he was acting as a double agent for his friend Poroshin.
One night, Veronika finds Günther to ask for his help getting rid of the body of a "client", Heim, who died of a heart attack in her bed. Günther, with the help of Belinsky, oblige and as part of the operation discover that Heim was a dentist specializing in teeth extractions, visibly for the purpose of making Nazis escape identification through dental records. At that point Belinsky reveals that he is actually looking for Heinrich Müller, the former head of the Gestapo, who faked his death and is suspected of having killed Linden. Belinsky asks Günther to find Müller, which would allow him to free Becker. As Günther's infiltration of the Org progresses, he eventually gets to meet Arthur Nebe, who was also presumed dead. It now becomes clear that the members of the Org had all received new identities to hide their Nazi past, which involved the removal of their teeth. To catch Müller, Günther and Belinsky organize a sting operation at the vineyard estate of Nebe in Grinzing on the occasion of a formal meeting of the Org.
Günther shows up to the meeting early to look for Veronika, who had disappeared in the meantime, but gets intercepted by a murderous Latvian guard before being rescued by Nebe. He nevertheless gets to meet with Müller, who ends up believing his cover. As he moves around the house to signal from a window for Belinsky to storm the property, Günther discovers that Veronika is being tortured in the cellar by König. He frees her but is taken down by the Latvian again. His cover blown, Günther gets interrogated by Müller under threat that they will crush Veronika in a wine press. Günther admits everything he knows but Veronika gets crushed anyway. Later, Nebe visits Günther in his cell and tells him the complete story of Linden so he can feed it back to Müller to avoid further torture. During their conversation Nebe eats a cake poisoned by Günther and dies, allowing Günther to escape the property in a car which he later crashes during the ensuing pursuit. The novel ends as Günther recovers and learns from Shield that Becker had been hanged and Belinsky was not actually a CIC officer, but an agent of Poroshin.
The major themes of the novel includes the hardship of post-war conditions in Germany and Austria, occupation by the Allied Powers, espionage activities between them, and the secret post-war resurgence of Nazi war criminals.
Bernhard Günther's investigation parallels the filming of The Third Man by a British film crew in the city and what happens to him mirrors the plot of the film in subtle ways
- 1991, UK, Viking, ISBN 978-0670835164, Pub date 28 March 1991, Hardback
- 1992, UK, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140175615, Pub date 24 September 1992, Paperback
- 1993, UK, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140231700, Pub date 29 April 1993 (as the third part of the "Berlin Noir" paperback)
Explanation of the novel's title
The novel's front matter includes an excerpt from the poem "A German Requiem" by James Fenton.