Bernie Gunther's past catches up with him in Kerr's outstanding seventh novel featuring the tough anti-Nazi Berlin PI who survived the Nazi regime (after If the Dead Rise Not). In 1954, Bernie is living quietly in Cuba, doing a little work for underworld boss Meyer Lansky, when he runs afoul of the U.S. Navy and lands in prison in Guantánamo. Later, at an army prison in New York City, FBI agents ask him about his service in WWII, in particular as a member of an SS police battalion on the Eastern Front. Another transfer sends him to Germany's Landsberg Prison, where Hitler was imprisoned in 1923. Officials from various governments question and torture him, but grimly amusing Bernie, who's smarter than any of his interrogators, successfully strings each one of them along. Vivid flashbacks chronicle Bernie's harrowing war experiences. Series aficionados and new readers alike will take comfort knowing that Kerr is hard at work on the next installment. Author tour. (Apr.)
If there's a PI with a jaundiced eye, it's Bernie Gunther. During his 11 years as a homicide detective in Berlin, he witnessed every kind of perversion. When the Nazis grab power, he leaves the force, but Hitler's man Reinhard Heydrich soon sinks his claws into him. (Even a Nazi needs an honest cop once in a while.) Bernie becomes Heydrich's tame dog. In 1940, he's shipped to the eastern front dressed in SS field gray. Fast-forward to 1954. Bernie is in Cuba, working for Meyer Lansky and the mob. Things heat up, and he's caught while fleeing the country. The CIA takes custody of him; they need his help to capture an elusive East German security police officer. But to Bernie, the Americans are no different from the Nazis—"the worst kind of fascists. The kind that think they're liberals." They force Bernie to talk through his checkered past, taking us back to 1930s–40s Berlin, Paris, and the Soviet Union. VERDICT As always in a Bernie Gunther title (If the Dead Rise Not), the plotting is twisty, the writing crisp, the atmosphere indisputably noir. Fans of hard-boiled PI novels and all readers interested in the dirty history of Nazi Germany will love this book. They don't come any better. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/10.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
When fans meet Bernie Gunther in this latest saga in the adventurous life of the hard-bitten, sardonic policeman, Kerr's (If the Dead Rise Not, 2010, etc.) stalwart Berliner detective is in pre-Castro Cuba.
But Cuba is no refuge. To prevent being forced to work for Batista, he tries to sail to the Dominican Republic, only to be caught by a U.S. Navy patrol boat. It doesn't help that his passenger is a rebel partisan wanted for murder. Gunther's identity discovered, he is sent first to a military prison in New York City and then to the infamous Landsberg prison where the Weimar Republic held Hitler and where the Allies interrogated, tried and sometimes hanged Nazi war criminals. It does no good for Gunther's future that he had served in a SS military police unit on the bloody Eastern Front and had more than a passing acquaintance with devils like Reinhard Heydrich. Kerr propels the story, framed around historical facts and characters, through several flashbacks. The author's ironic perceptions find an SS colonel quoting Goethe as he presides over the massacre of a town full of Jewish civilians and Gunther wryly observing the Franzis (French), the Amis (Americans) and human nature in general: "Sometime morality is just a corollary of laziness." The flashbacks are easily followed, from pre-war Berlin to the murderous hell of the 1941 Eastern Front to postwar slave-labor camps behind the Iron Curtain. Those dealing with Gunther's search for a German communist in 1940 France are truly revealing, especially the descriptions of historical places like the concentration camps in Vichy France. While some might quibble over occasional long sequences of dialogue that would be better served with tags, Kerr writes Gunther as he should be—world-weary, sardonic and as independent as an introspective man might be as he ricochets between murderous criminals, hell-bent Nazis or revenge-minded communists. The double-double cross denouement suggests Gunther will live to fight another day.
An accomplished thriller.
The great strength of the novel is Kerr's overpowering portrait of the war's horrors…Sometimes I tire of novels about the Nazis. For lazy writers, Hitler and his minions are an easy symbol of evil, one they find more useful than jihadist terrorists, drug lords and serial killers. But Kerr resurrects the past to remind us that the fascist mentality endures, all over the world, even though swastikas and jackboots are no longer its outward trappings.
The Washington Post
…the darkest and most disturbing of Philip Kerr's novels featuring Bernie Gunther, the former German police officer and wiseguy private eye…
The New York Times
Praise for Philip Kerr and the Bernie Gunther Novels
“A brilliantly innovative thriller writer.”—Salman Rushdie
“Philip Kerr is the only bona fide heir to Raymond Chandler.”—Salon.com
“In terms of narrative, plot, pace and characterization, Kerr’s in a league with John le Carré.”—The Washington Post
“Every time we’re afraid we’ve seen the last of Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr comes through with another unnerving adventure for his morally conflicted hero.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Just as youth is wasted on the young, history is wasted on historians. It ought to be the exclusive property of novelists—but only if they are as clever and knowledgeable as Philip Kerr.”—Chicago Tribune
“Kerr quantum leaps the limitations of genre fiction. Most thrillers insult your intelligence; his assault your ignorance.”—Esquire
“A richly satisfying mystery, one that evokes the noir sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald while breaking important new ground of its own.”—Los Angeles Times
“Part of the allure of these novels is that Bernie is such an interesting creation, a Chandleresque knight errant caught in insane historical surroundings. Bernie walks down streets so mean that nobody can stay alive and remain truly clean.”—John Powers, Fresh Air (NPR)
“The Bernie Gunther novels are first-class, as stylish as Chandler and as emotionally resonant as the best of Ross Macdonald.”—George Pelecanos
“Kerr’s stylish noir writing makes every page a joy to read.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)