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14 June 2015

Philip Kerr: The Pale Criminal

Bernie Gunther - Berlin Noir 1938
This is #2 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 and seamlessly integrated with some of the key happenings and powerful personalities of that time.

Bernhard (Bernie) Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin's criminal police) and left in 1933 when the National Socialists started to purge the force of all non-party members. He is now a private investigator who spends most of his time tracking down missing persons, who are inevitably mostly Jews.

Gunther is not a Nazi (he gives the Nazi salute when needed because "it's not worth taking a beating for not saluting") and accepts that he lives in a world of Nazi insanity where brutality has become commonplace. He is not averse to some brutality where necessary in his work, has a tough and rough sense of humour, is constantly cynical but has a pragmatic sense of right and wrong. At heart he is a true Berliner of the time, sometimes morally-compromised but acquiescing to but not actively participating in what is happening because opposing it is too painful to contemplate.

The time is now 1938 with the Nazi machine blowing the winds of war and starting to implement its plans for Aryan supremacy and elimination of inferior races. There is a serial killer loose in Berlin who tortures and sexually abuses teenage girls. The Nazis are worried because they are good Aryan girls who support the Nazi cause. Gunther is given an offer he can't refuse to rejoin Kripo to find the killer or killers. He can't refuse it because the offer comes from Reinhard Heydrich, the prime architect of the Holocaust, then head of the Gestapo. His only compensation is to be given a higher rank than when he left.

This is a heavily-plotted and frequently violent crime novel which is seamlessly set against the background of Nazi Germany just before the start of WWII and the Jewish holocaust. This is wonderful stuff for a crime-fiction junkie like me who loves his doses of history with a crime-fiction background.

It is also the second book in the Kerr's "Berlin Noir" trilogy. The last book "A German Requiem" is set in 1948 and takes in the start of the Cold War and the denazification of Germany. I am already hooked on the series and enjoying reading that book,

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