It seemed like a strangely appropriate moment to read a novel set in mid 1930s Germany – can’t imagine why. So I returned to Philip Kerr’s great set of Bernie Gunther novels, a detective who is like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe with a heavy side-dose of British sarcasm and quick-wittedness. This is the first of the entire series (and the trilogy known as Berlin Noir), which I probably should have started with but there you go.
This is great stuff – a taut and tightly-plotted thriller which grips and entertains right up until the last page. Gunther is working finding missing people (mostly Jews) but ends up with a case that leads him right into the centre of the Nazi hierarchy, caught between Goering & Himmler. There are some lovely touches, and plenty of twists – and enough historical detail to make the noir extremely black and dark. The later books I have read by him are slightly less contrived and have slightly more space and room (so events don’t pile up on each other in the same way). And the language and similes can occasionally be a bit much (would he really get away with talking like this to so many powerful, evil people?!)…
Overall, though, not a bad way to dip into 1936 Germany from a sideways angle: Kerr’s writing is never dull, and his laconic style really works for me. For those wondering, a ‘March Violet’ was a derisory term for someone who opportunistically joined the Nazi party after 1933, having previously been against them. Let’s hope it isn’t a term that comes back into use.