Thursday, December 15, 2011

11.19 March Violets by Philip Kerr

March Violets (1989) by Philip Kerr

Bernhard Gunther is 38 years old, a veteran of the Turkish Front, and an ex-policeman. He's also a private eye, specializing in missing persons, which means that he's a very busy man. Because this is Berlin 1936, and people have a nasty habit of disappearing in Hitler's capital. 

 A cluster of diamonds sets Bernie off on a new case -- diamonds and a couple of bodies. The daughter and son-in-law of Hermann Six, industrialist millionaire and German patriot, have been shot dead in their bed and a priceless necklace stolen from the safe. As Bernie pursues the case through seedy Berlin nightclubs, the building sites for the new autobahns, and even the magnificent Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens is currently disproving all the fashionable racist theories, so he's led inexorably into the cesspit that is Nazi Germany, travelling the murky paths from the police morgue where missing persons usually end up to, finally, Dachau itself.

This past summer my father in law had been reading a number of crime novels by David Downing that are set in pre-war Berlin. I looked for them in the library but couldn't remember the author. It turns out there is another crime author that writes in the same milieu, Philip Kerr. So I got this book.

It's a great period to write in. The threat of impending war, the growing Nazification of the Germans and Berlin of course was such a cosmopolitan city then. The crime story here is good although somewhat convoluted. Kerr seems to have felt the need to have his hero pass through every famous place in Berlin 1936. Gunther is the stereotype of the American hardboiled crime detective: disheveled and hard drinking. Unfortunately, my only major complaint about the novel is the section near the end where the hero goes to the concentration camp. The scenes aren't poorly written it is just that the tone is so glaringly different from the rest of the book that it throws you off.

1 comment:

OlmanFeelyus said...

I've been wanting to read March Violets for a long time. It's the first in a trilogy (and possibly there is a fourth?) and I saw the second and third in these awesome Fontana editions at the book market in Amsterdam. I really wanted to get them but not without the first one, so I put them back. Still haven't been able to find that first one in that edition. Also, last year, Book Glutton had a second copy of the entire trilogy that he offered to send to me for free if I completed 75 books. I tried but just couldn't quite make it.

Glad to hear you've read it. Sounds good but not great, but as long as it has intense meetings with scary Nazi officials, I'm psyched for it. It is a great milieu for a detective. Perhaps the second and third books don't feel the need to exhaust every historical possibility and just let the story play out.