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

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There wasn't much light apart from the coachlamp by the front door, but as far as I could see the house was… as big as a decent-sized hotel of the sort that I couldn't afford.

Murder, politics and a very nice twist makes March Violets a very good start to a wonderful ride thru this dark part of history.He has won both the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing, and the CWA Ellis Peters Historic Crime Award. He's also as moral as a man can be, it seems, while continuing to live and work in wartime Germany, and by the end of the series I came to feel that Bernie was much more than just another hard-boiled shamus. On a recent trip to the library, I saw that they were having a donated book sale - five for a dollar. It ought to be the exclusive property of novelists—but only if they are as clever and knowledgeable as Philip Kerr. By 1949 Bernie has shifted his quarters from Berlin to Munich, and after a terribly unsuccessful stint running a small hotel near Dachau, has resumed his private investigation business.

My perusal of Web sites did give me a heads up that I can expect to see another Bernie Gunther installment in a year or so: Field Grey is coming out in the UK in July 2010. And following several trips to Germany - and a great deal of walking around mean streets of Berlin - his first novel, March Violets , was published in 1989 and introduced the world to the iconic tough-talking detective Bernie Gunther.In The Pale Criminal, it's 1938, and Gunther has been blackmailed into rejoining the police by Heydrich himself. He occasionally experiences flashbacks and recurring nightmares, both symptoms of posttraumatic stress. But then he went freelance, and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi sub-culture. When we first meet Bernie in March Violets he is 38 years old, a veteran of the Turkish Front (like Hitler, winning a Second-Class Iron Cross, but, as he says, “most of the first-class medals were awarded to men in cemeteries”), and an ex-policeman.

Gunther is forced to accept a temporary post in Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich's state Security Service, with a team of men underneath him tasked purely with hunting the killer. But on a seemingly straightforward stakeout, Bruno is killed, and Bernie suddenly finds himself tapped for a much bigger job.

In front of the German War Memorial a company of Reichswehr were making trade for chiropodists to the accompaniment of a brass band. Downing’s main character John Russell and Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel are both news reporters, not detectives, so the sensibilities are different. A serial sex murderer is killing Aryan teenage girls in Berlin - and what's worse, he's making utter fools of the police. Yes, although A Quiet Flame ends with our hero bound for Uruguay, he didn’t tarry long there, but instead washed up on the shores of Cuba, during the time when that island nation was ruled by the dictator Fulgencio Batista in cahoots with several members of the American Mafia.

I had fallen into Philip Kerr by way of his Wittgenstein-inspired bit of serial killer detective sci fi, A Philosophical Investigation. I was in Germany in the late '80's, just before the wall came down, and there were still echoes of that early post-war era to be found. In one big paperback you get the complete Berlin trilogy: March Violets; The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem.Oh, but our hardbitten narrator-detective has not read the genre, of course, and this awkward bit of authorial obviousness almost caused me to set the book aside. A Quiet Flame also moves back and forth in time, although Kerr uses a different narrative technique in this book, inserting chapters that relate an episode from Bernie’s past (Berlin, 1932) into the main story, which takes place in Buenos Aires in 1950. Maybe she still had a few clients, but I thought it was a better bet that I’d see a Jew at the front of a Nuremberg pork-butcher’s queue (p. One of Bernie’s traveling companions on this trip was the notorious Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann. Over 10 years elapsed between the publication of the novels in the Berlin Noir set and the three stand-alone titles that complete the Bernie Gunther series to date.

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