Bernie Gunther, ex-detective for the Berlin police force, but now a hotel detective, like many Germans of 1934 must tiptoe around the repressive regime of the newly empowered Nazis. Showing insufficient loyalty or questioning their tactics is likely to get one sent to a labor camp. When Bernie meets an attractive US female journalist with an agenda to derail the ’36 Olympics by exposing German atrocities, not to mention an inexplicable death of a Jewish man in his hotel, he knows that he faces an impossible dilemma. Inevitably, his helping these situations puts him into serious jeopardy.
Fast forward to Havana of 1954 where Batista is a dictator and Fidel Castro is in prison. Again, anyone against the regime is dealt with harshly. But Batista has a striking tolerance for crime bosses and gangsters. In a winding journey after the War, Bernie has ended up in Havana. His life is uneventful until he surprisingly runs into the journalist from Berlin, who is in the orbit of the mobsters. Suddenly he is forced to walk a very narrow line when he is offered a job by one of them, where refusal is not an option. Life is virtually never easy for Bernie.
While Bernie is an interesting character, of equal interest is the history of the times. The author manages to bring many well known historical figures into his narrative, although at times the many historical references can seem a bit daunting. It is a dark world in which the author situates Bernie.