If the Dead Rise Not
Interwar Berlin police officer Bernie Gunther has had his share of troubles in Philip Kerr’s March Violets, A German Requiem, One from the Other, and A Quiet Flame. His career takes a downward slide in Kerr’s latest. Gunther is now a hotel house detective in a 1934 Berlin fresh in the tightening grip of the Nazis as the city embarks on preparations for the 1936 Olympic Games. Gunther, a man with a strong independent streak and a hatred for the Nazis who surround him, is a veritable lightning rod for trouble. He murders a Nazi policeman, seemingly without thinking of the certain repercussions, while simultaneously becoming ensnared in a hotel theft which directly leads to discovering widespread corruption by leading Nazis in the financing of the Olympics. As if this wasn’t enough, our indefatigable hero is also engaged in a passionate affair with an American reporter, Noreen Charalambides, and seeking to hide his partial Jewish ancestry from the Nazis.
I have never been disappointed with Philip Kerr’s deft touch in setting out the moral quagmires in interwar German society. Gunther’s quest for truth while dealing with these complexities reminds a reader of Robert Harris’s Fatherland. Gunther’s current tale ends in the Cuba of dictator Fulgencio Batista and the rebel leader Fidel Castro. Noreen and her daughter are here, and the expatriate Gunther rises to the occasion in saving his long lost love yet again. While I would have preferred having the action remain in Germany, this slight disappointment doesn’t keep me from anticipating further adventures with the world-weary but morally conscious Bernie Gunther. How can one not enjoy a writer who creates lines like “She commanded attention like a nudist playing the trombone”?