Thursday, December 15, 2011
11.19 March Violets 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.
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