Brisard and Parshina aim to put the whole mess to bed in their exciting, convincing, The Da Vinci Code–like investigation ... The book effectively shuttles between the authors’ time-squeezed investigation and the tense last days of the Führerbunker, revealing longstanding interagency rivalries and Stalin’s dastardly use of fake news. Do the authors find a definitive answer? Yes. A hint: teeth never lie.
Their findings are confident, if unspectacular: They cannot prove with only a visual analysis that the fragment of skull is or is not Hitler’s ('It belongs to an adult. Period,' says Charlier) but are sure that the jawbone is ... But the most interesting lesson is elsewhere: Their book describes how the death of Hitler, for more than seven decades and counting, became a cold case with ideological implications during the Cold War ... Cold War paranoia played a major part in the ambiguity around Hitler’s death. Stalin himself never seriously doubted the suicide of his archenemy ... but the Soviets tried to keep their allies in the dark on that matter ... Moscow was still arguing that Hitler did not shoot himself but took one of the cyanide capsules Heinrich Himmler gave him...the death of a coward, conforming to the wishes of the Soviet propaganda ... To ask if the skull preserved in the State Archive is or is not Hitler’s, write the authors, 'means talking politics, discussing the official position of the Kremlin. An unthinkable option for the head of the Archive. Absolutely unthinkable' ... the authors have the honesty, at one moment, to assess the possibility that they might be manipulated ... At the last page of the book, Jean-Christophe Brisard asks Lana Parshina what would have happened if they had concluded Hitler’s teeth were not Hitler’s. She answers, calmly: 'That would have been a huge problem for Russia.'
Not one single element of this sequence is in any serious factual doubt ... Hence, The Death of Hitler: The Final Word, which is full of hysterically atmospheric passages in which our daring duo encounter the chilly disdain of Boris-and-Natasha-style Russian officials ... to their credit, some kind of credit, some adjunct sideways kind of credit, our authors make their own story of taking on the State Archives very dramatic, zippy reading, full of heroes and villains, full of dramatic twists and turns, full of charged dialogue in low-ceilinged rooms, full of Russian femmes fatale with steely eyes and crossed arms, sternly guarding their 80-year-old shards of ghoulish junk. None of the tense convulsions of The Death of Hitler unsettles or overturns even the smallest detail of the story of Hitler’s final days, but the book tells its own story with all the zest of revelation. It doesn’t actually provide any revelations, but it prowls over all the old evidence with an eager stage-setting that readers will find entertaining, provided they keep their skepticism ready to hand.
The book blurb describes it predictably as resembling a thriller. In fact, it is in large part an exercise in the kind of diversionary narrative found in color supplement writing, a bulking up of irrelevant detail to mask the thinness of the actual investigative results. Yet the story is worth retelling. The book offers an important Russian perspective and its historical detours makes some useful points ... As a witness to this Russian scramble to identify Hitler, [Memoirs of a Wartime Interpreter author Yelena] Rzhevskaya, whose account is published for the first time in English, is excellent. Unadorned, clear-eyed, precise, she describes how Russian investigators tracked down Hitler’s dental surgery, then the dental nurse who saw to Hitler and Braun’s teeth ... The reconstruction in The Death of Hitler is familiar, but fluent, evocative and when it steers clear of authorial intervention rather gripping.
The Death of Hitler: The Final Word rivals any fictional mystery, with plenty of back-story on Hitler and those who surrounded him in his last days. Those scenarios feel ominous, even though we know the outcome; they also sometimes feel too pat, as if they’re there to move the story along. What helps is that the authors pull readers into modern-day sleuthing often enough to keep their ground. This book is very well-sourced, and it’s perfect for historians, World War II buffs, and mystery-lovers. Parts of it do feel recreated here, but it possesses a reassurance of truth and a positive air of authority. The Death of Hitler: The Final Word is a very good book, though the final word may still be hanging.