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Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem Paperback – January 1, 1994
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“A brilliantly innovative thriller writer.”—Salman Rushdie
“Philip Kerr is the only bona fide heir to Raymond Chandler.”—Salon.com
“In terms of narrative, plot, pace and characterization, Kerr’s in a league with John le Carré.”—The Washington Post
“Every time we’re afraid we’ve seen the last of Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr comes through with another unnerving adventure for his morally conflicted hero.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Just as youth is wasted on the young, history is wasted on historians. It ought to be the exclusive property of novelists—but only if they are as clever and knowledgeable as Philip Kerr.”—Chicago Tribune
“Kerr quantum leaps the limitations of genre fiction. Most thrillers insult your intelligence; his assault your ignorance.”—Esquire
“A richly satisfying mystery, one that evokes the noir sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald while breaking important new ground of its own.”—Los Angeles Times
“Part of the allure of these novels is that Bernie is such an interesting creation, a Chandleresque knight errant caught in insane historical surroundings. Bernie walks down streets so mean that nobody can stay alive and remain truly clean.”—John Powers, Fresh Air (NPR)
“The Bernie Gunther novels are first-class, as stylish as Chandler and as emotionally resonant as the best of Ross Macdonald.”—George Pelecanos
“Kerr’s stylish noir writing makes every page a joy to read.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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The problem? Surviving two knock-outs, one kidnapping, an assassination attempt, a mob shootout and a stint in Dachau stretches my believability to the breaking point. A little less "action" would have served the story well. All in all though a good, fast read. As I complete the other two in the trilogy I will add reviews.
The first novel in Berlin Noir, for example, is called March Violets. It is 1936. In it Bernie is hired to find a very valuable neckless by the very rich father of a woman who was murdered together with her husband when the necklace was stolen. But things are not what they seem. More than a necklace was stolen. The rich man’s wife thinks Bernie was hired to find out who she is sleeping with and has sex with Bernie hoping to persuade him thereby to stop his investigation. During his investigation, several people are killed, and Bernie falls in love with a woman, who as I mentioned previously, disappears. Also, during the investigation, Bernie is forced by Hitler’s Prime Minister Hermann Goering to allow himself to be imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp where he is to find an inmate who knows where certain papers are and force the prisoner to reveal where the papers are so that Goering can use them to blackmail people to do what he wants them to do.
Top international reviews
In "March Violets" Bernie is asked by the wealthy industrialist Herr Six to investigate the murder of his daughter and her husband, along with the theft of jewels from their safe. The author uses the setting of pre-war Berlin to great effect, with cameo appearances by real life characters, such as Georing and Heydrich. Both Heydrich and Himmler also appear in the next book, "The Pale Criminal", in which Bernie is 'asked' to rejoin Kripo in order to investigate the ritual murders of young girls on the streets of Berlin. From Dachau, through Kristallnacht, to Himmler's interest in spiritualism, Bernie wisecracks his way through danger and attempts to retain control in a world gone mad. The third book, "A German Requiem" has a different feel about it. It is now 1947 and the war has changed everything, leaving Berlin in ruins and Bernie attempting to earn a living in a city reduced to rubble. When he is asked to help an old acquaintance, now facing the death penalty for shooting an American, he travels to Vienna. Helped, and hampered, by the opposing forces of the Russians and the Americans, he attempts to discover who is hiding the truth - and which of his old comrades are in hiding.
I have always enjoyed Philip Kerr's novels, although sadly some of his earlier thrillers are no longer in print. Some years after this trilogy was written, Kerr returned to the character of Bernie Gunther with great success. It would be nice to have all his earlier books republished on kindle. However, if you are intending to read the Gunther novels, this is the place to start. This is detective writing at it's very best and Gunther one of the best private detective's ever created.
A long way off Le Carre's class but at least this third part of the trilogy gave me some idea of why other readers rate this author. Four stars is probably a bit high but its certainly four times as good as the first part and twice as good as the second part.
This was published in 1989-91 and, unlike much serious literature of the time, it has not aged a bit. Kerr's style emulates that of the noir classical era: Chandler, Hammett, and other masters, adapted to the German landscape and German slang. Without being as bright as Chandler's style, it is effective and never overreaches. And also notable is how Kerr manages to weave historical characters into the story without it ever feeling phoney. A thick tome, this is nonetheless quickly read and a great introduction to the series.
The protagonist Gunther goes back and forth from being a Berlin policeman, and a private detective throughout the books investigating crimes, mostly murders, before and after the Second World War. March Violets and The Pale Criminal are set in the Berlin of the mid to late 1930s with the Nazis, and German Requiem in a post war Allied occupied Vienna.
Of the three books, The Pale Criminal, is by far the weakest with everything that happens seeming far too convenient and wrapped up at the end. Of the other two novels I liked March Violets the most probably because in German Requiem Kerr doesn't seem as comfortable with his setting. One nagging doubt you'll have throughout all three books is how one man seems to run into so many historical figures wherever he goes.
This isn't up to Raymond Chandler levels but not far off, let down by a weak middle story.
Bernie Gunter was a Policeman and now, a little dellusioned, is a Private Investigator.
If, like me, as you read these novels I hope you find the insights into the early years of German National Socialism an added bonus in producing the background into which Philip Kerr weaves the tales.
A history lesson about real events, peoples thoughts, feeling and effect as the German National Socialist Party comes to power is such an added bonus, to an already compelling set of stories. Historic information using fiction people to tell it.
this trilogy at the moment but am enjoying the descriptive and informative writing of Kerr and the fiesty character of Gunther very much and will certainly order more by Kerr. This particular edition, published by Penguin, was printed in the USA on good quality paper in a nice print and rather floppy covers which makes it pleasant to hold and turn the pages and easy on the eye to read.
This character is quite dark and exists in a world where Germany were successful in winning the Second World War.
A similar concept to Fatherland by Robert Harris. The story runs along at a decent pace and quite gritty in places. You can empathise with the character and want him to succeed in his quests.
Bernie is an entertaining companion and I'm looking forward to reading the later books in the series.
The literal translations of German slang were quite difficult to get used to, but I enjoyed them.