For any of you that love thrillers, especially those set in an historical context then the Berlin Noir novels written by Scottish author Philip Kerr must go to the top of your Christmas holiday reading list. Kerrs anti – hero, Bernie Gunther comes in the mould of all hard boiled detectives but being German and living in Berlin during the war years he has a very particular history.
So to a quick background sketch;
Bernie Gunther is a former soldier (he fought with the Wehrmacht on the Turkish Front in WW I) and an ex-cop (an inspector for the Kriminalpolizei). We first meet him in ‘March Violets’ working as a private eye in the pre-World War II years of Berlin specializing in missing persons. Due to the rise of National Socialism, business is brisk although Bernie has a habit of making enemies with the powers that be, namely the Nazi State.
March Violets is followed by two more books set in Berlin; ‘A Pale Criminal’ and ‘A German Requiem’. All three are stylishly written, powerfully evocative and offer a convincing picture of life in Germany before, during and immediately after the war. As a character, Bernie follows in the great private eye tradition of Hammett and Chandler and the books, with their in-your-face history lesson, make them one of best and most intriguing historical detective series.
After the trilogy was published many of us diehard fans thought that Bernie Gunther had disappeared himself thus marking the quick end of one of the truly great detective characters of 20th century fiction. However, after 15 years of critical acclaim for what became known as ‘The Berlin Trilogy’ it seems Philip Kerr did too and in 2006 he decided to bring Bernie back from the dead. In ‘One From the Other’ we caught up with Bernie managing a failing hotel in the shadow of the Dachau concentration camp, contemplating re-opening his private detective agency in the brave new world of American-occupied Germany. In 2008 we were treated once again to ‘A Quiet Flame’. This time around we found Bernie in 1950s Argentina, falsely accused of being a war criminal.
By the end of ‘A Quiet Flame’ I really thought that was it. No more Bernie. But it was not to be and I have never been so happy to be wrong. In 2009 Kerr published ‘If The Dead Rise Not’ which returned us to Berlin circa 1934 and now, in 2010, we have his latest book, ‘Field Grey’ set in Cuba in 1954. I haven’t read it yet and I can’t wait to. It’s on my Christmas list and as soon as I get my grubby paws on it I’ll be racing through it, oblivious to family Christmas obligations.
So, please believe me when I say this; if you’re looking to buy yourself a great Christmas holiday read and haven’t read any of the Bernie Gunther books then start with ‘Berlin Noir’; the first three books republished as a one-volume trilogy. If you are writing up a list to give to a loved one – stick it on the top of the list. It’ll be your best read in many a year.
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