Greeks Bearing Gifts

Written by Philip Kerr
Review by Lucille Cormier

Bernie Gunther returns for #13 in Philip Kerr’s crime fiction series. The former Berlin police detective has survived the Nazi years, but at the price of making powerful enemies who have been on his trail since the war’s end. His latest evasion strategy is to hide in plain sight. That is why he now works as a mortuary assistant in Munich. It is 1957, and he goes by the name Christof Ganz.

Gunther doesn’t fly under the radar for long. A corrupt Munich cop recognizes him and blackmails him into a robbery gig that turns into murder. Bernie foils the plan, returns the money, and wins a job as an insurance claims investigator. He’s very good at it and gets sent to Greece to investigate a claim for a sunken boat. There the web becomes tangled indeed. Sadistic murders, stolen antiquities, Nazi plunder—all are skillfully woven into the realpolitik of post-war Greece.

The Bernie Gunther stories are noir by genre, so we expect to see the dark side of human nature. But in Greeks Bearing Gifts dark becomes black. There is no relief from deceit or greed or callousness. Gunther himself has become bitterly cynical and sarcastic. Further, as a seasoned criminal investigator he makes some rather stupid moves, and he’s developed an amazing fascination with female cleavage. Though never an altar boy, this new Gunther is not very likeable. A third off-putting feature of Greeks Bearing Gifts is the author’s tiresome overuse of similes, though some are pretty funny. However, in spite of it all, the story moves well and you want to see how it ends. I have long been a Bernie Gunther fan and will no doubt line up for Volume 14, but perhaps this time with muted enthusiasm.