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Field Gray (A Bernie Gunther Novel) Hardcover – April 14, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bernie Gunther's past catches up with him in Kerr's outstanding seventh novel featuring the tough anti-Nazi Berlin PI who survived the Nazi regime (after If the Dead Rise Not). In 1954, Bernie is living quietly in Cuba, doing a little work for underworld boss Meyer Lansky, when he runs afoul of the U.S. Navy and lands in prison in Guantánamo. Later, at an army prison in New York City, FBI agents ask him about his service in WWII, in particular as a member of an SS police battalion on the Eastern Front. Another transfer sends him to Germany's Landsberg Prison, where Hitler was imprisoned in 1923. Officials from various governments question and torture him, but grimly amusing Bernie, who's smarter than any of his interrogators, successfully strings each one of them along. Vivid flashbacks chronicle Bernie's harrowing war experiences. Series aficionados and new readers alike will take comfort knowing that Kerr is hard at work on the next installment. Author tour. (Apr.)
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About the Author
Philip Kerr is the author of many novels, but perhaps most important are the five featuring Bernie GuntherA Quiet Flame, The One from the Other, and the Berlin Noir trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem). He lives in London and Cornwall, England, with his family.
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A turbulent life, in flashbacks
Thus begins Field Gray, the seventh in Philip Kerr’s long-running Bernie Gunther series. How all this happens, and why, only gradually becomes clear in a dizzying series of flashbacks. The story rockets from Havana and New York to Minsk in 1941, to Germany in 1954, 1931, and then 1940, then on to France in 1940. The book continues in this vein, filling in the blanks in Bernie’s life over the course of more than two decades. In previous installments in the series, we’ve learned some of the details. Now we learn the flesh-and-blood details, often gory. Along the way we catch glimpses of several prominent historical figures in Nazi Germany, including Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Arthur Nebe, and others, as well as Meyer Lansky. Even Graham Greene makes an anonymous cameo appearance.
Not an easy story to tell
Bernie Gunther’s story is not easy to tell. He fought for Germany in World War I, served as a police investigator in Berlin until 1934, then became the house detective at the famed Adlon Hotel. Later, he went into partnership as a private eye. Heinrich Himmler’s notorious #2, Reinhard Heydrich, forced him back into into the police department in 1938 and then into the SS to take up a special assignment in France.
Ranked as a captain in the SS, Bernie fought on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. Eventually captured by the Russians, he survived a brutal year in a Soviet prison camp. After escaping, a German war criminal framed him for murders he himself had committed, forcing Bernie to flee to Argentina. There he lived under an assumed name for five years under the thumb of former SS officers. By 1954, Bernie had moved on to Cuba, where he was working in security at one of Meyer Lansky’s hotel-casinos. This is where we find him as Field Gray opens.
Bernie’s take on all this? “I’m tired of the whole damned business. For twenty years I’ve been obliged to work for people I didn’t like. Heydrich. The SD. The Nazis. The CIC. The Perons. The Mafia. The Cuban secret police. The French. The CIA. All I want to do is read the newspaper and play chess.”
Grounded in historical fact
Philip Kerr does research well. His writing about Germany in the 1930s and 40s is right on target. His portraits of the historical figures who crop up in Bernie’s story are accurate, if my own reading of history can be believed. Though the succession of flashbacks in the novel can be disorienting at times, Kerr manages to move the story along at a rapid clip. Read this book, and you’ll be guessing about what happens next all the way to the end.