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14 June 2015

Philip Kerr: A German Requiem

Bernie Gunther - Berlin/Vienna Noir 1948
This is #3 in the excellent Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr - one of the best hardboiled police/crime series I have read for a long time. It is extra special because it is also set with meticulously researched historical detail in Nazi Germany before and after the war and seamlessly integrated with some of the key happenings and powerful personalities of that time.

Bernhard (Bernie) Gunther was a hard-boiled Berlin detective who served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin's criminal police) and left in 1933 to become a PI when the National Socialists started to purge the force of all non-party members. He was forced back into Kripo in 1938  by Reinhard Heydrich, the prime architect of the Holocaust, then head of the Gestapo. Since then he has served in the SS as a soldier on the Eastern Front, observed mass killings, been a POW of the Russians and escaped back to a hand-to-mouth existence as a PI in the rubble of post-war Berlin.

Gunther was never a Nazi or a war criminal but went through the war at the front because opposing what was happening was too painful to contemplate. He is not averse to some brutality where necessary in his work, has a tough and rough sense of humour, is constantly cynical but while he is sometimes morally-compromised he has a pragmatic sense of right and wrong.

In 1948 Gunther is hired by an ex-colleague who has been arrested for the murder of an American officer in Vienna. Although he despises the man because he was involved in Nazi atrocities, under his current circumstances the offer is too good to turn down. Vienna is also a divided city between the Americans (Amis), British, French and Russians (Ivans) and he soon gets involved in early Cold War espionage antics between the Amis and the Ivans and with leading war criminals who are trying to cover up their previous lives. Gunther finds that his life is as dangerous now as it was during the war.

Philip Kerr is a first class thriller author who can write heavily-plotted, hard-boiled and frequently violent crime novels seamlessly set against the background of Berlin and Vienna after the war. This is wonderful stuff for a crime-fiction junkie like me who loves his doses of history with a crime-fiction background.

This is the third book in the Kerr's "Berlin Noir" trilogy which covers Gunther's experiences before and after the war. This is the first time that I have read through a trilogy without a break and really enjoyed all of the books.  I am hooked on reading the rest of the series very soon.

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