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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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.