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If the Dead Rise Not: A Bernie Gunther Novel Paperback – April 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Both newcomers and established fans will appreciate Kerr's outstanding sixth Bernie Gunther novel (after A Quiet Flame), as it fills in much of the German PI's backstory. By 1934, as the Nazis tighten their grip on power, Gunther has left the Berlin police force for a job as a hotel detective. His routine inquiry into the theft of a Chinese box from a guest, a German-American from New York, becomes more complex after he learns that the identical objet d'art was reported stolen just the previous day by an official from the Asiatic Museum. The case proves to be connected with German efforts to forestall an American boycott of the 1936 Olympics, and provides ample opportunities for Gunther, whom Sam Spade would have found a kindred spirit, to make difficult moral choices. Once again the author smoothly integrates a noir crime plot with an authentic historical background. Note that the action precedes the events recounted in the series' debut, March Violets (1989). (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Favorably compared to the World War II espionage novels of Alan Furst (The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw) and the work of hard-boiled legends Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Philip Kerr reprises the Bernie Gunther saga with true fidelity to his detective's noir roots. The Berlin Noir novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem), a trilogy published nearly 20 years ago, are known in crime circles but woefully neglected by mainstream readers. With If the Dead Rise Not--and despite the unevenness of the book's two parts, which critics felt slightly impaired the novel as a whole--Kerr continues to develop Gunther's character in one of the great historical crime series. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the current story, initially set in pre-War Berlin (circa 1934) Gunther encounters a mix of real and fictional characters, including American "businessman" (well, actually he's a gangster) Max Reles, Nazi Police General von Helldorf, Gestapo agent Weinberger (nope, not a crypto-Jew, despite the suggestive name, a fact that assumes importance in the story), corrupt American Olympic Committee functionary Avery Brundage, several SS and KRIPO members and Noreen Eisner, femme semi-fatale and Bernie's romantic interest. This time, Gunther, while working as Adlon Hotel carpet-creeper, encounters the vivacious Noreen, a Jewish journalist working on a newspaper article which will demonstrate ongoing Nazi anti-Jewish behavior (akin to exposing corruption in the police; an exercise in exposing the obvious). Why? She plans to use the article as a vehicle in which the murder of a Jewish boxer will convince one-and-all that there are dire machinations between the AOC representative (Brundage), Max Reles and the German Olympic Committee Reichssportführer, Hans von Tschammer und Osten (who also serves as leader of the Deutscher Reichsbund für Leibesübungen and, not to be overlooked, is an SA Gruppenführer) all of which should convince the American government to cancel US participation in the Games. This all occurs, of course, with the connivance of a bewildering array of complicit agents on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the outstanding features of the Gunther series is its ability to acquaint current readers with some of the lesser-known but thoroughly nasty characters who have generally escaped historical scrutiny, Avery Brundage being a prime example of the type. This cynical, corrupt, sanctimonious and immensely wealthy scion of American nobility, inflicted his insipid presence on the Olympic scene right up through the 1972 Munich/Black September debacle. Under the guise of impartial sportsmanship, Brundage lined his pockets with public funds and undermined the integrity of the institution he was serving. Helldorf, who literally lost his head in 1944 when he fell afoul of his own plotting, is an almost Hollywood style Nazi, coming as he did from a "noble" family. Naturally, he was fond of indulging in all the debaucheries favored by most delicately decadent members of the elite (and so richly caricaturized by so many lesser authors) is another chap whose curriculum vitae should be known to all lovers of the noir genre. Reles, a Jewish thug, on the other hand, is a fictional character, but he is a stand-in for the sort of people Brundage and von Helldorf held near and dear.
So, having been introduced to the German side of the "If the Dead Rise Not" coin in the first half of the novel, what comes next? Readers of the series will recall that Bernie, late of KRIPO, the SS, the Abwehr and the US CIC amongst others, was implicated in the murders of two women in the previous story in the series, "A Quiet Flame". With the aid of the "Old Comrades" (ODESSA) and the CIA (Operation Paperclip), Bernie arrived in Argentina hoping to lead a shy and retiring life but (of course!) becomes involved in another dire plot. In the second half of "Dead", he surfaces in 1954 Cuba, where he again encounters Reles, this time as a member of the American "expat" criminal community which includes the entire pantheon of American Jewish gangsters (e.g., the Lansky brothers, Nathan Rothman) and select members of the Mafia (Joe Stassi, Santo Trafficante, etc, etc). He also meets the nefarious Lieutenant Quevedo, who has all the attributes of the sophisticated Nazis Bernie is accustomed to dealing with. He also encounters the mordant and occasionally helpful Captain Sanchez, analogue of the occasionally helpful Nazis Bernie is accustomed to dealing with illustrating that human nature has certain enduring refrains, regardless of which side of the ocean you live on. Bernie also, not surprisingly, again encounters Noreen, who resides at Ernest Hemingway's Cuban farm. Thus, we have the Cuban dramatis personnae.
As before, the book hews to the Chandler-Hammett-Ellroy style. This is not a criticism; its a compliment. So is the liberal use of Chandler-style dialogue. Here are a couple of examples: "As you can see, he might have been a Jew...Although from the rest of him, you wouldn't say he looks like a Jew at all", to which Bernie replies, "The strangest people are these days", or this lapidary Bernie-ism, "These days, a considerate German is someone who doesn't knock at your door early in the morning in case you think it's the Gestapo." Bernie says, "I'm not a Nazi. I'm a German. And a German is different from a Nazi. A German is a man who manages to overcome his worst prejudices. A Nazi is a man who turns them into laws." Kerr even borrows a lick from the Robert Towne "Chinatown" script: a body found floating in fresh water with salt water in its lungs ("Salt water bad for glass"). The meticulous attention to historical detail also continues from previous books and reflects diligent and comprehensive research by the author.
"Dead" is a really first-rank detective thriller. The sparkling dialogue, deeply researched history, cleverly contrived story lines and Kerr's unique ability to avoid the sort of self-parody that many modern mystery series writers eventually fall prey to command attention and respect. Perhaps in future installments, hoping there are some, Kerr will concentrate more on Bernie during the pre-War and WW-II years. Regardless, any and all these books are well worth reading.
Unlike the typical broken hero (orphan, alcoholic, cuckold, et al.), Kerr has created a hero who has been broken on the wheel of history and labors to heal himself - a Sisyphean task when burdened with the full weight of Nazism. Bernie recalls to mind the old French saying, forgive but never forget. [also attributed to Thomas Szasz - look him up, a fascinating character].
Unlike the dark ruminations of most noir heroes, Bernie really has some demons to wrestle with, and it is a near-constant source of friction and tension. The addition of all of the history and historical figures is a wonderful plot device - think a dark "Zelig." As well, and I have no idea how accurate Kerr is, he creates a compelling portrait of post-WWI Germany. I'd be interested to know just how accurate the dialogue is in German, but no doubt, Kerr channels Hammett and Chandler, and since the noir movement has its roots in German film, he's certainly broadcasting from the right neighborhood.
Overall, I'm a huge fan of Bernie and throughly enjoy the plots and characters and of course, Bernie's droll, noir dialogue.
This, the sixth book in Philip Kerr's remarkable Bernie Gunther series, shows that the author hasn't lost his knack for combining classic noir mysteries (complete with a hard-nosed investigator who cracks wise at the drop of a fedora) with a more thoughtful narrative that delves into the harsh realities of the ordinary individual face-to-face with some of the harshest political regimes of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It isn't Kerr's best, but it's a fascinating story that manages to bookend the improbable odyssey of Gunther, who readers first met in the mid-1930s as an already-world weary and worldly wise private investigator in Nazi Berlin and last saw leaving behind the new Peronist dictatorship in Argentina with a new name that he hopes will keep him safe from myriad enemies that he has inadvertently left in his wake.
The book starts in Berlin in 1934, when Bernie has left the police department (the philosophy of jumping before he gets pushed out as a Social Democrat and thus politically undesirable) in the wake of the Nazi takeover and finds himself working as the house detective at Berlin's famous Adlon Hotel. That doesn't keep him out of political hot water, however; he finds that two dead bodies, one in one of the Adlon's best rooms and the other fished out of the Landwehr Canal with its lungs full of seawater, appear to be linked by politics -- specifically, by politics surrounding the upcoming Berlin Olympics and the efforts by some groups to boycott the games in view of the Nazi regime's anti-Jewish policies. The first 2/3 or so of the book revolves around this set of mysteries; then the reader is abruptly transported to Cuba circa 1953, where Bernie is now making a living, even more cynical about life and people than he had been two decades previously. Suddenly, figures from the past appear, disrupting that effort at a peaceful existence and his hopes of returning to Germany, and he finds himself embroiled not only in past mysteries but a present plot, involving Mafia figures like the Lansky brothers and the opposition by one Fidel Castro and his supporters to the Bautista regime...
The first part of the book is more satisfying and I felt that Kerr could have simply wrapped up his story at that point; the temptation to simultaneously address some of the loose threads (or invent them and then wrap them up) while at the same time answer the urgent question of what happened to Bernie after he had to leave Argentina behind in A Quiet Flame: A Novel (Bernie Gunther Novels) must have been too great to resist, but it doesn't necessarily make the story any stronger, and it does make it more difficult for newer readers to jump into the series at this point. Still, the impeccable writing, Bernie's character, complete with flashes of wit and unexpected glimpses of a more complex and even thoughtful and erudite individual beneath the Dick Tracy-esque exterior, make this a great read, and Kerr nails the atmosphere of both pre-war Berlin and pre-Castro Cuba. Even knowing what happened to Bernie Gunther during the intervening years, thanks to the other books in this series, didn't spoil the suspense of the first part, and the ending to this one has me hoping that somehow Kerr will find a way to carve out some kind of resolution for the hapless Bernie Gunther -- in other words, hoping for a seventh book in the series.
If you haven't read any of the others in this series, this is NOT the place to start. There's a good trilogy that begins with Kerr's first book to feature Bernie Gunther, Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem, and that is just as good. This book functions as a prequel to March Violets and a sequel to the events in A Quiet Flame, and is probably the only one in the series that can't be read independently, at least in my opinion. That's OK, because the fans of the series will enjoy this the most -- for me, as for them, it's likely to be at least 4.5 stars and possibly 5; for others, 4 stars. I'm going with the former rating in part to offset the one-star reviews by people protesting the Kindle rating without having read the book. If the reviews end up being more balanced in a few months, when more readers have chimed in, I'll re-post this review with a 4-star rating to reflect the gap between new readers and existing fans. Regardless, this is a great series, and fans of authors like Alan Furst will love it.
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also for the German history during and after the Nazi's...Read more