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Berlin Noir: March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem (Bernie Gunther, 1-3)

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The Olympic Games are about to start; some of Bernie's Jewish friends are beginning to realize that they should have left while they could; and Gunther himself has been hired to look into two murders that reach high into the Nazi Party. And they practiced the same sort of theft in the countries they occupied; Nazism was more like an organized crime syndicate running a government than what we think of as a government. As a reader I was constantly being thrown out of the story by Kerr’s clumsy and overwrought metaphors. The original trilogy – March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem, available also as a stand-alone collection Berlin Noir – is considered one of the great highpoints of crime literature. He does admit, in the aforementioned interview, that his intent is to use each novel to reveal some additional aspects of Bernie’s character.

Since they had the Josephine Tey I recently reviewed (worth the dollar by itself), I was incentivized to pick out another four books and this single-bound trilogy by Philip Kerr caught my eye. Since the late eighties, Philip Kerr had been redefining crime fiction with his justly-lauded Bernie Gunther sequence.When an enigmatic Russian colonel asks Bernie Gunther to go to Vienna, where his ex-Kripo colleague Emil Becker faces a murder charge, Bernie doesn't hesitate for long. I stuck with it for more than a hundred pages but in the end, I wasn’t interested enough to continue.

It ought to be the exclusive property of novelists—but only if they are as clever and knowledgeable as Philip Kerr.an investigation in which he finds himself exploring the crankier side of modern German medicine and psychotherapy. I loved David Dowling's fabulous "… Station Series" books that were set in Berlin either side of the second world war, and enjoyed a couple of Jonathan Rabb's 1930's "Berlin Trilogy" books, well those that were actually in Berlin, so when Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir Trilogy "box-set" ("March Violets", "The Pale Criminal" and "German Requiem") popped-up as a daily Kindle deal I took a punt. As you can tell from my description of the titles to date, one of the ongoing features of this series is the way Kerr shifts his attention around Bernie’s colorful biography!

A German Requiem opens in 1947, in a devastated Berlin, Bernie is again a private detective living day to day and watching his wife romance US soldiers. Herr Six happens to have a drop-dead beautiful wife and Bernie picks up an equally attractive assistant, Inge Lorenz, who disappears without a trace toward the end of the novel. In front of the German War Memorial a company of Reichswehr were making trade for chiropodists to the accompaniment of a brass band.

For example, Kerr could have chosen to end March Violets with Gunther's arrival at Dachau, and spent all or most of the second book with having his sympathetic protagonist struggle to survive, let alone solve his case, there. Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels, three of which—Field Gray, The Lady from Zagreb, and Prussian Blue—were finalists for the Edgar® Award for Best Novel. Like most hard-boiled detectives, he's got a dry wisecrack for every situation, though he's better at it than most and I actually found myself laughing out loud at many of his comments. But he doesn't, and for me, the endless intriguing within the Nazi leadership that underlies much of the more byzantine twists of the trilogy's plots quickly becomes tiresome. Anyway, for a twenty cent investment I figured I couldn't go far wrong in selecting the trio of books that apparently made Kerr's literary reputation.

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