Friday, April 10, 2009
Aint That a Kick in the Hague
Nearly twenty years ago now Philip Kerr published a short series of novels featuring ex-cop turned PI, Bernie Gunther set against the backdrop of 1930s Berlin, (actually the first two, March Violets and The Pale Criminal were pre-war and the third A German Requiem was post and set in Vienna). I was working at a bookstore for several years and knew Kerr's name to recommend to folks looking for techno-thrillers in the vein of oh say Michael Crichton, but I knew nothing of the Bernie Gunther books which were out of print at the time until writer pal Mark Dischinger placed the collected novels in anthology form called Berlin Noir into my hands. This was somewhere around 2002 and friends lemme say they scared the crap outta me. Generally I'm not much for PIs or series books, but I make ready exception for Bernie Gunther. The Berlin backdrop is surreal and frightening and perhaps all the nationalist fervor in the USofA at the time lent to the nightmares the books induced in me, but I was hungry for more. I tried a couple other Kerr novels, The Grid and A Philosophical Investigation, but neither did for me what Bernie did. I haven't tried Hitler's Peace or The Shot, a couple of his other historical thrillers, but I'm curious if anybody else out there has. Then out of nowhere a couple years back, (something like fifteen years since German Requiem), Bernie Gunther was in a new novel called The One From the Other and I gobbled that shit up. Kerr gave Bernie even more baggage to deal with, exploring his time in the SS during the war including an episode that haunts him when he executed some Russian soldiers. The guilt he and all of surviving Germany live under, (in these novels) is incredibly rendered and watching him look at himself in the mirror is half the beauty of these books. True - it's a series and as such is susceptible to the main criticisms of most series - the suspension of disbelief gets harder with each incredible event that happens to one character, also, they tend to spiral out of proportion toward the end of the stories, (get bigger than they need to), but the research and period details are priceless and the yarns are ripping. Bernie's back in A Quiet Flame which has been receiving some nice reviews and finds our hero hunting nazis in South America. Dunno when I'm gonna squeeze it in, but rest assured, I will.