R.I.P. Philip Kerr

A sad day today. Philip Kerr, one of my favorite authors, died today in London. With him dies Bernie Gunther, the hard-boiled Gekerr photorman cop, turned Private Investigator, set in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s violent world.

Through 13 novels we have followed Bernie as he survives Nazis and the following so-called peace. Our sarcastic Bernie moves from wise-cracking, reluctant Nazi to a jaded man on-the-run from all governments and politics. And we will miss him terribly.

Gunther is “one of crime fiction’s most satisfying and unlikely survivors: the good cop in the belly of the beast,” wrote Jane Kramer, The New Yorker’s longtime European correspondent, last year.

Kerr was a Scottish born writer who captured the evil of that time and place better than anyone I have ever read. He died at only 62-years-old from bladder cancer just before the publication of his final novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, which comes out next week. There is apparently another Bernie manuscript left behind, Metropolis, which let’s us explore the Weimar Republic when Bernie was young in the 1920’s.

If you are lucky enough to not have read Philip Kerr at this point, start with his trilogy, Berlin Noir berlin, which contains the first three Bernie Gunther novels. Though you can really start anywhere in his Gunther books since Kerr consistently jumped around by time and location.

As readers, we have moved through time with Bernie from the early 1930’s in Germany to the 1950’s in Havana and the French Riviera. The world-weary ex-cop never caught a break as history pushed him along. Now we too, have lost our luck and must say goodbye to Bernie as well.

 

 

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Don’t Lose Her by Jonathon King

Let me start off by saying that I LOVE mysteries that take place in Florida – as a Minnesotan who has put up with enough snow and ice for a lifetime, I bask in stories that take place with in high temps and gentle Gulf breezes. So it is no surprise that I read a substantial list of authors who hail from The Sunshine State.

One of my favorites is Jonathon King, who has written seven Max Freeman novels. King is reminiscent of James Lee Burke, Lee Child and William Kent Krueger, who write of loner, heavy-hearted ex-cops who can’t cut that life anymore.

Freeman is a former Philadelphia police officer who seeks refuge in a secluded shack deep in the Everglades because of killing a child in a shoot out. The Blue Edge of Midnight won the Edgar’s Best First Novel Award in 2002 – in it Freeman discovers a young girls body floating in the muddy waters around his shack. In his second book, A Visible Darkness (2003), which also was nominated for a Shamus for Best Novel, Freeman starts to work as a PI for a local lawyer, Billy Manchester, who wants him to look into a recent string of homicides – all poor elderly women with sizable and recently sold-off insurance policies. Typical PI mysteries, and I love them all!

However, having said that, I think that King’s latest, Don’t Lose Her (2015), is probably my least favorite of his novels. This time Freeman chases after an eccentric gang deep into the Florida Everglades to bring back the kidnapped and pregnant wife of his friend, Billy Manchester. From the start we see the kidnapping from both Freeman’s and the perpetrator’s points of view – a writing device that I do not care for in a mystery.

The mystery was less of a mystery and more of a character study. And that does not seem to be King’s forte as a writer. But I do love Max Freeman, and the chase went through the Everglades so I was quite willing to finish reading this latest publication. Next time we can only hope that Freeman gets back to the good old fashion PI case with suspects and only our hero’s point of view, as well as, of course, the Everglade’s locale.

It was in 1964 that Florida started to blossom as a prime locale for mysteries with the publication of The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald – the first of 21 Travis McGee novels. Now we have Randy Wayne White who writes of Doc Ford, a marine biologist based on Sanibel Island. A former Sanibel fishing guide, White has restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and Ft. Myers Beach, which are called, appropriately, Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille. The restaurant also sells his 23 Doc Ford books and other paraphernalia dealing with the books. If you haven’t read White, start with the beginning books which are (as usual) the best.

Then there is Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Dave Barry, T.J. MacGregor, Stuart Woods, Stuart Kaminsky, Tim Dorsey and Tom Corcoran (my favorite police photographer who bums around Key West!). These are just my favorite Florida mystery writers – but there are many, many more. In fact the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America has become the third largest state chapter in the country.

I am going to rate Jonathon King a 5 out of 5; but Don’t Lose Her a 4 out of 5.