The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

When we first meet Philip Kerr’s character, Bernie Gunther, he is a left-leaning German police officer in the 1930s in Berlin. That was in March Violets, published in 1989. One knows Bernie is in for a stressful few years, but thanks to Kerr, we have had Bernie Gunther adventures from 1934 through to 1956 with the latest publication, The Other Side of Silence.51bDmJKVI7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Let me start out by saying that this is hands-down my favorite historical mystery series. Kerr gives us a look at Nazi Germany, its power, its weaknesses and finally its destruction from the eyes of Bernie as he navigates the hell he has been thrown into. This series is a gem. If you haven’t yet read the 11 books in the series, you are one lucky reader!

The Other Side of Silence is set in the French Riviera in 1956, and Bernie is still alive – no small feat. Usually Kerr writes about Nazi Germany, but this time the story is really about Great Britain and East Germany and what came to be called “The Cambridge Five,” English spies who worked for the Soviets.

As Kerr likes to place real people in his stories, we meet Somerset Maugham this time. Maugham pulls poor Bernie (who is finally at peace working as the concierge at a local deluxe hotel) into clandestine activities he wants no part of. But alas, Bernie has never been one to shirk the action. I love Bernie’s voice as usual, battered by history and hopeful by nature.

This Cold War espionage novel dwells on vengeance and revenge (as Bernie explains, there is a critical difference). The novel has quite the nod to John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in plot development, and without giving too much away, let’s just say you have to be on your best game to stay equal to Kerr’s quick developing action in the second half of the book. Like LeCarre’s Spy, The Other Side of Silence, starts off slow and builds to a denouement that thrills.

51PU4oLabYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_One can read the Bernie Gunther series in any order after the first three – March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem (published as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir in 1992), because Kerr jumps around in history with Bernie mostly in Germany or Europe, but in other novels he does wash up in Havana and Buenos Aires as well.

Bernie will return in 2017 with the 12th book, Prussian Blue; and I cannot wait. My rating 5 of 5.

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Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Every now and then I like to read a thriller. Not a mystery where I use logic and analysis to decide who-dun-it. Rather I like to get on the roller coaster and ride for a short time with my heart in my throat, thrilled to the max.

Harlan Coben is the master of the thriller. Some would say his books are formulaic, and actually, I do agree with that. But what a fun formula! Coben had written seven consecutive #1 New York Times bestseller thrillers, and this one makes number eight.

Fool Me Once is a fast paced ride with all the necessary elements to keep you trying to guess what is going on. The novel opens at Maya’s husband’s funeral. He has been killed while with Maya during a robbery gone bad. The police arrest the bad guys and close the case, but Maya is sure that these men are not guilty. She decides to handle her own investigation, but then Maya sees her husband walking across the nanny-cam video used to watch her child’s nanny. Uh-oh…

Coben said in an interview that he wanted “to write a normal, intelligent woman” character – and he certainly has done so in Maya, a Special Ops pilot who has all the makings of a more classy Lizbeth Salander (The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo)!

News stories are reporting that Julia Roberts will produce and star in the movie adaptation. Apparently, she read the book in two days and solicited the part of Maya. I think that Fool Me Once is this year’s Gone Girl or Girl on a Train. Only this time the Girl is a heroine you can cheer for.

I love the twists and turns Coben puts in his thrillers. And yes, his novel plots are very similar to each other. But I am willing to take this wild ride every now and again, even if I know what I am in for.

Coben also wrote the Myron Bolitar series about a sports agent detective. If you haven’t read that series, start with number one, Deal Breaker, which won the 1996 Anthony Award in the category “Best Paperback Original.” I loved this series and fans will be happy to note that another Myron book will come out in September 2016, after nothing in that series since 2011.

  My rating: 4 out of 5