The Berkut

After the fall of Berlin, Vasily Petrov--code-named “the berkut” (a species of eagle used for wolf hunting in south central Soviet Russia)--is not convinced by the planted evidence of the Fuhrer’s death and tries to track down the fugitive, who is aided by SS Colonel Guenter Brumm, Petrov’s true antagonist. In his ruthless, methodical search, the Soviet commando leader is aided by four rather colorless comrades.

Meanwhile, closely behind the Soviets comes the American Beau Valentine, “the most unpredictable and unorthodox man in the OSS.” Throughout Petrov’s pursuit of “the number one Nazi war criminal” from his hideout in the Harz Forest across Europe, Valentine manages to stay on their trail until the dramatic showdown on the Mediterranean, where Hitler’s fate is finally decided.

THE BERKUT is original in its choice of predator and prey, a choice which allows Heywood to lead his readers on a tour of a nightmarish postwar Europe empty of a higher morality but full of war crimes, brutality, torture, death, and violent sex acts. What makes THE BERKUT less good than others of its kind is its occasional vagueness as to background information, particularly where the Soviets are concerned. Conversely, the historical tidbits Heywood does include--such as the position of Eva Braun’s legs at the point of her death--are overworked. Too often the narrative avoids the kind of details that lift a story like this from mere adventure and intrigue to informed insight in reality. Furthermore, the meshing of acknowledged fact and fiction is not always smooth.