Philip Kerr has become one of my favourite police and crime writers: you cannot go wrong in picking any of his Bernie Gunther stories, and I’ve been un-chronologically making my way through the whole series. So I was really saddened to learn about his death at the age of 62 a couple of weeks back: his latest book, another Gunther mystery, called Greeks Bearing Giftswill sadly be the last published in his lifetime (although he did leave behind another text called Metropolis – so perhaps there will be one more).
So I decided to take this one on holiday. It has all the characteristics I was hoping for: impeccable research lightly worn and included; sardonic wit and humour; a propulsive narrative; and learning about the whole historic period. In this instance, the nature of the war in the Balkans and Switzerland form key parts of the narrative; and while Gunther’s ability to find himself in slightly unlikely new roles continues to amaze, the plot is brilliantly woven together and remains largely believable.
It loses a bit of focus in the middle, and it’s a fair amount longer than the earlier books: what they make up for in depth and complexity, they lose in punch and concision. But Kerr is still a master at drawing characters and creating a narrative with enough pace and urgency to compel the reader to turn the pages. In this instance, the story involves a femme fatale, dangerous trips into a lawless Yugoslavia and a neutral-in-theory Switzerland, and links to both Nazi propaganda and concentration camps. In this case, it is overlaid with the fact that Gunther gets a bit wistful and romantic, which is something of a shift from the norm.
Kerr is a brilliant writer, and I’d heartily recommend reading the series: not just for crime aficionados, but those interested in learning about the 30s to 50s in Germany, and who might like the idea of a Chandleresque hard boiled gumshoe with sarcastic wit using those characteristics to survive and help others. I’m excited by the fact I still have four or five books left to read, and I can think of no greater compliment than that.