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Berlin Noir: Penguin eBook (Bernie Gunther Mystery 1) Kindle Edition
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This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel. See more
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Bernhard (Bernie) Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin's criminal police) and left in 1933 when the National Socialists started to purge the force of all non-party members. He becomes a private investigator and then is forced back to Kripo by the Nazis. After witnessing mass killings he fights on the Eastern Front and becomes a POW with the Russians.
Gunther was never a Nazi or a war criminal but went through the war at the front because opposing what was happening was too painful to contemplate. He is not averse to some brutality where necessary in his work, has a tough and rough sense of humour, is constantly cynical but while he is sometimes morally-compromised he has a pragmatic sense of right and wrong.
March Violets: A Bernie Gunther Novel, set in 1936, has Gunther investigating the murder and torching of the daughter and son-in-law of a powerful German steel magnate and an associated safe robbery. The investigation gets mixed up with Nazi issues and Bernie gets involved with Goering (in a cameo role) and Reinhard Heydrich, the prime architect of the Holocaust.
The Pale Criminal: A Bernie Gunther Novel, set in 1938, has Gunther forced back into Kripo by Heydrich to find a serial killer of Aryan teenage girls who are Nazi sympathisers.
A German Requiem: A Bernie Gunther Novel is set after the war in Berlin and mostly in occupied Vienna. Bernie is asked to help a former colleague and black marketeer accused of the murder of an American officer. In the process he gets dangerously involved with both the "Amis" and the "Ivans" in Cold War tensions and with some major war criminals.
Philip Kerr is a first class thriller author who can write heavily-plotted, hard-boiled and frequently violent crime novels seamlessly set against a fascinating background of Berlin before the war and Vienna after the war. This is wonderful stuff for a crime-fiction junkie like me who loves his doses of history with a crime-fiction background. This is the first time that I have read through a trilogy without a break and I really enjoyed all of the books - highly recommended. I am hooked on reading the rest of the series very soon.
But for me the star of the series is 'A German Requiem,' set in 1947, with Berlin still filled with rubble (and to a lesser extent, rubles). In that third book, Gunther is convinced to head to Vienna on a case where he is trying to prove the innocence of a shady character in jail for murder and known as a pretty serious smuggler.
For me, as good as the crime part of the story are in that last book, the details about shortages, violence, literal rape and pillage by the invading Russian troops is brilliant. Pack that it with early post-war Vienna, one of the first squabbles in what would become the Cold War, and you have a really good book.
The comparisons to Raymond Chandler and other pulpy fiction to me are not that apt. Though Kerr writes in a classic crime novel form, he mops the floor with Chandler as a stylist and his stories are far more complex. Read these books on their own, enjoying them on their own terms, and leave your 40's and 50's Americans on their own.
The dialogue is great and cracking as well without being too cliche: here part of the interrogation of our hero (Bernie Gunther) by a couple of Gestapo men, after having to shoot a man to death who tried to kill him in his apartment:
"And I suppose he tried to kill you because he didn't like your cologne," said Tesmer
"You noticed it too, huh?" I saw Stahlecker smile a bit at that, but so did Tesmer, and he didn't like it.....
"I've told you the truth Tesmer. I opened the door and there was Herr Kolb with the lighter pointing at my dinner."
"A (gun) on you, and yet you still managed to take him. I don't see any holes in you, Gunther."
"I'm taking a correspondence course in hypnotism. Like I said, I was lucky. He missed."
"Listen, I don't mesmerize easy. This fellow was a professional. Not the sort to let you have his lighter for a bag of sherbert."
"A professional what--haberdasher? Don't talk out of your navel, Tesmer. He was just a kid."
This was the type of book I HATE to finish, because I always want more. Thankfully, I have plenty of other Phillip Kerr novels yet to read.
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