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

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I’ve briefly mentioned already that these novels are written in the first person, entirely from Bernie’s point of view. A richly satisfying mystery, one that evokes the noir sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald while breaking important new ground of its own. In the second chapter of A German Requiem, he’s riding the train back to Berlin from a trip to Potsdam.

Thanks to the built-in philosophy, the book had style, even if the plot (which looks forward to Showtime's TV show Dexter) ultimately fell flat. A very tangled plot leads Bernie to take on the identity of another war criminal and fall victim to one of the Jewish vengeance squads roaming post-war Europe.On a recent trip to the library, I saw that they were having a donated book sale - five for a dollar. A few more tidbits about Bernie, gleaned from the series to date: he served in the First World War and was awarded an Iron Cross, second class. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Echoes of Doblin and Hammett resonate in this opening trilogy in Kerr’s ongoing Bernie Gunther series.

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. One thing the books illustrate is the extent to which Nazism was a kleptocracy, in which anyone with a bit of power stole from stigmatized groups: Jews, of course, but really anyone who was not a staunch Nazi. But he doesn't, and for me, the endless intriguing within the Nazi leadership that underlies much of the more byzantine twists of the trilogy's plots quickly becomes tiresome. 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.

They also conjure up a chilling psychological portrait of Germany before and during the war, elevating them beyond pure page-turning crime fiction, for me, into moral literature. So good so far but then towards the end it all goes a bit urgh as Kerr achieves closure wrapping-up the final loose thread through a massive coincidence which frankly beggars belief, and after that the book suddenly finishes with a final chapter that's really more of an epilogue in which we get a recap; it's almost as though there's a chapter or two missing and that's why I marked it down when it could have been four or five stars!

Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels, three of which—Field Gray, The Lady from Zagreb, and Prussian Blue—were finalists for the Edgar® Award for Best Novel.I had fallen into Philip Kerr by way of his Wittgenstein-inspired bit of serial killer detective sci fi, A Philosophical Investigation. That said, the atmospherics, level of authentic historical detail, and genre-nailing fun kept me going here. The original trilogy – March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem, available also as a stand-alone collection Berlin Noir – is considered one of the great highpoints of crime literature. The fourteen Bernie Gunther novels written by Philip Kerr offer not only first-rate mystery plotting, atmospheric prose, and witty dialogue but also philosophical insights into the nature of ambition, loyalty, and identity.

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