By creating a detective who operates in Berlin in 1936, Philip Kerr is able to paint a picture of Germany in those years before the war. Bernard Gunther, is thirty-eight in 1936. Before he became a private investigator he was a policeman. Now his speciality is missing persons. Business is brisk in 1936—many people are missing, disappeared into prisons, work camps.
Bernard is hired by a wealthy industrialist whose daughter and son-in-aw were found shot to death in their bed and after they were killed a fire was set. Missing from a wall safe is a diamond necklace.
Rather than stay with the simple case, Bernard finds himself drawn into a much wider case which involves corruption and the Gestapo. Kerr is quite descriptive when describing the methods employed by the various police groups.
Eventually Hermann Goering hires Bernard to locate someone who he believes stole some papers hidden in the same safe that contained the diamond necklace. The job is not one that Bernard can refuse. Eventually Bernard is forced to go to Dachau as an undercover agent—his job is to find out where the papers are hidden.
Bernard is not fond of the Nazis, but he has few options when told to go to Dachau in that capacity. If he refuses he will still go to Dachau, but as a prisoner whose chances of getting out might be slim.
This is a noir piece of writing with lines that often are snide comments about the third Reich or lines that are overdone hard-boiled noir.
While the plot does become a bit over plotted the tenor of the times is captured and it is the first in a series so I expect that some of the excesses of language and plot will be tempered.