Fans of Philip Kerr’s Berlin noir series might be surprised by this standalone story – it’s most definitely not a Bernie Gunther-style thriller. It’s a rigorously researched historical novel with a fictional intrigue woven around actual events and real people; the military men and global leaders whose actions proved pivotal during WW2. You shouldn’t expect a page-turning espionage adventure – because what you get is a metric tonne of names, ranks and historical references.
However, Hitler’s Peace is so well constructed that it’s almost impossible to see the joins between actual fact and Philip’s fictions – well, apart from a couple of utterly implausible (but extremely entertaining) plot twists. The story is told from several perspectives, switching from an American professor who’s called upon to investigate atrocities that may have happened behind allied and enemy lines to a middle-ranking German army officer, who’s come up with a plot to assassinate the allied leaders and thus save Germany from a humiliating defeat.
While Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin set up their negotiations in the Middle East, intellectuals and army officers plot and scheme to undermine allied efforts and to advance their own agendas. All the players have murky pasts and mixed affiliations which make them vulnerable to accusations of treachery. There’s a solid spy story at the centre of this which pulls many rabbits out of hats: who in the Third Reich in late 1943 might’ve been prepared to do a deal with the Allies? Who might’ve seen the tripartite talks in Tehran as an opportunity for advancement? And who started killing agents in Washington, and then accompanied the American president aboard his warship en route to the summit meeting?
As an alternative timeline, this becomes an immensely engaging story after you’ve negotiated the extended scene-setting of the opening chapters. The series of incompetent events which afflict aboard FDR’s flotilla are ludicrously enjoyable, as are the interludes with Philby and Co. And I was genuinely on tenterhooks as the conference approached and absolutely anything could happen…
Originally published more than a decade ago, Hitler’s Peace may be too academic and meticulous for fans of page-turning thrillers. Equally, it probably takes too many liberties with real-life characters to entirely endear itself to experts on the era. But if you’re happy to steer a middle path through richly detailed historical happenings and (mostly) plausible fictional conceits, this is a rewarding read. As good, in fact, as Kerr’s later Gunther tales – if very different in style and scope.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Hitler’s Peace by Philip Kerr is available at Amazon