The One From The Other

Written by Philip Kerr

Think Sam Spade as a German PI in postwar Europe, only here the streets are meaner than any in Dashiell Hammett’s California, and Philip Kerr’s creation, Bernie Gunther, has more baggage than a Deutsche Bahn express train. Like many of the classic detective stories, this one starts with a stunning blonde in a red dress, arriving with a seemingly simple task. This leads Gunther into his most complex case, one with consequences that he may not escape. His investigation takes him into a world where good and bad seem synonymous, and one cannot tell the “one from the other.”

                Written in the style of Hammett and Raymond Chandler, this book can be both humorous and disturbing, often in the same paragraph. But the evil portrayed is anything but fictional, from an appearance by Adolph Eichmann to the complicity of the CIA in subverting justice for war criminals. Kerr’s main character is complex as well, with a past tainted by Nazism and the brutality of war. Far more than just a mystery, this book sheds light on a postwar period largely forgotten, and brings to the fore the very real criminality of both victor and vanquished.

                For all its rather serious nature, it is a highly entertaining book, imaginatively conceived and smartly executed. Although it stands as a remarkable work of historical fiction, fans of hard-boiled detective stories will not be disappointed. This is the fourth in the Bernie Gunther series, written some fifteen years after his initial appearance. The only disappointment would be if we have to wait another decade and a half for another.