The sixth book in the Berlin Noir series is set in the flashback 1934. Kicked out from police force, Bernie is a house detective at Hotel Adlon. He gets mixed up with two of his hotel guests, an American gangster and a beautiful journalist. Events soon turn complicated and Bernie is yet again trapped in machination of politics and corruption and left to manoeuvre him out of a tight spot.
I started Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series with A Man Without Breath. It hooked me immediately. Kerr has brought together the two elements that I like most – a good mystery and history as a backdrop. And what better historical background to have than the rise of Nazism and Second World War? Add to this Bernie Gunther, the perennial supporter of democracy in a country that dwindled in no time on all parameters of a civilised nation and we have a heady cocktail of politics, intrigue and moral dilemma.
Kerr’s books cover a period of around 30 years starting with early 1930’s when Gunther is a homicide detective in Berlin. The next three tumultuous decades bring equal turmoil to Gunther’s life. If The Dead Rise Not is set in two parts – first part in 1934 Berlin and second in 1954 Havana. In 1934, Nazis are firmly in saddle. Bernie has been kicked out of police force for being a supporter of now disgraced Wiemar Republic. He is earning his living as a hotel detective at Hotel Adlon. Death of a hotel guest and an unclaimed dead body of a former Jew boxer make Bernie suspicious about another hotel guest Max Reles. Reles is an American businessman having interest in construction. Soon Bernie’s investigation unearths that Reles is a gangster and is rigging bids for Berlin Olympic. This brings Bernie face to face with the corruption, politics and duplicity of Nazis. Bernie soon discovers a racket to employ Jews illegally on the construction of the Olympic stadium. At the same time, Bernie is romantically involved with Noreen Charlambides, an American Jew reporter hell bent on exposing Nazi hypocrisy towards Jews. The standoff ends in a stalemate between Bernie and Reles. Twenty years later, Bernie is living under a pseudonym in pre revolution Havana when he meets Reles and Noreen again and the story heads towards an explosive end.
What makes this series special to me? For one, Bernie Gunther is a man that I would love to hate but cannot. Bernie is a cynic who covers himself in thick layers of sarcasm and dark humour. He has great survival instincts, which means killing others if required to save his own neck. This should make him loathsome but in spite of his fault, you cannot help but to like him. Bernie carries the guilt of doing unspeakable horrible things for masters he always despised. While doing so he has been falsely accused as a war criminal and forced to migrate to Argentina and then Cuba.
Other thing that sets Gunther’s Berlin Noir apart is Philip Kerr’s research. Kerr creates the backdrop of Europe pre and post war with minute details. The portrayal of Nazi Germany is quite authentic and it adds a realistic flavour to the plots that are interesting in themselves. The books are fast paced, solid and gripping mysteries with magnetic Bernie Gunther at their heart.
If you are a fan of gritty crime fictions with historical setting this is a must read series for you.
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