I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, Mic...moreI've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, Michael Shayne, Sam Spade and their fellows just don't really do it for me. At least not in print. The Maltese Falcon film with Humphrey Bogart? Love it. In fact, if I'm gonna do hard-boiled, private eye then I generally prefer them on screen....and in black and white, please.
But I gotta give Dashiell Hammett credit. That man could write. And I now know why (beyond Bogey) I loved the movie....because so much of the dialog was lifted right off the page. And Hammett's dialog is absolutely right for this story. There are other reviewers that said that one annoyance with having seen the movie before reading the book is that you have Bogart's and Lorre's and Greenstreet's (etc) voice in your head when you read the dialog. I would say that one of the great things about having seen the movie before reading the book is that I have Bogart's voice in my head. He was absolutely perfect as Spade and I think it really helped me get over any lurking qualms I had about hard-boiled noir to have had the visual experience first. One of the rare instances when the movie got things right.
So...for those of you who have never seen the movie or read the book...here it is in nutshell. Sam Spade is a well-worn, world-weary private eye in San Francisco. He's approached by a woman who says she wants a man named Thursby tailed because he's run off with her younger sister. Spade's partner, Archer, agrees to do the job and gets himself killed for his good deed. Thursby winds up dead as well and Spade finds himself knee-deep in plot and counter-plot as the woman changes her name three times, various shady characters show up--all thinking he's got the goods on a mysterious black statue of a bird, and the police seem to think Spade's more deeply involved in the killings than is healthy for him. Spade has to fast-talk his way around suspicious cops, wily criminals, and gorgeous dames in order get out of this one with his skin whole. He also has to figure out who's side he's on...and who, if anybody, is on his. And just what is the limit of things people will do to get their hands on this fabled falcon?
Fast-talking, high-drama, action-packed mystery. A strong, flawed detective. A mysterious woman with more curves than mountain road (and that's just in the stories she's feeds to our hero). A terrific read...and that comes from someone who doesn't enjoy the genre. If you've seen the movie, but haven't read the book--you should. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie--you should. Great stuff in both formats. Four stars.
I discovered March Violets by Philip Kerr when I was looking for a mystery either set in Germany or written by a German author for the Crime Fiction o...moreI discovered March Violets by Philip Kerr when I was looking for a mystery either set in Germany or written by a German author for the Crime Fiction on a Europass Challenge. One thing I found while researching was that it would seem that the hands-down winner for German crime fiction is the Third Reich era. So many of the of the novels mentioned out on the internet take place in Nazi Germany or involve spy thrillers during the World War II era. March Violets is no different.
Set during the rise of the Nazi party, this is Kerr's debut novel of a series of crime stories set in Germany. According to the blurb: Scottish-born Kerr re-creates the period accurately and with verve; the novel reeks of the sordid decade that saw Hitler's rise to power. Bernhard Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons--mostly Jews. He is summoned wealthy industrialist, Herr Six, to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace. Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler's two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler. The search for clues takes Gunther to morgues overflowing with Nazi victims; raucous nightclubs; the Olympic games where Jesse Owens tramples the theory of Aryan racial superiority; the boudoir of a famous actress; and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Fights with Gestapo agents, shoot-outs with adulterers, run-ins with a variety of criminals, and dead bodies in unexpected places keep readers guessing to the very end.
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of noir fiction or hard-boiled detectives but the synopsis of this book reeled me right in. And, for the most part, I'm glad it did. The period atmosphere is perfect. Almost too perfect, because let's face it Nazi Germany was a very depressing place to be if you have any moral scruples at all. The narrative style is marvelous. Bernie is a tough-guy private eye that I love despite not loving tough-guy private eyes. The twists and turns of the plot are convincing and they pull you in and keep you there. So, what you may ask is the part that makes you not so glad? Two things. One: I am well aware that the hard-boiled school tends to live on ridiculous metaphors. But, seriously, Bernie has more metaphors than a coon hound has fleas. (See? It's rubbed off!) And some of them are down-right horrible. Here are just two examples: "Her breasts were like rear ends of a couple of dray horses at the end of a long hard day." and "She gave me a smile that was as thin and dubious as the rubber on a secondhand condom." Two: The penultimate scenes were a bit brutal. Heck, they were a lot brutal. That put me off a bit. Of course, I also realize that situations in Nazi Germany were a great deal more brutal than that. But it did take me by surprise.
I would like to continue reading this series. There are loose ends left at the "wrap-up" of this one that I'm curious to see how Kerr ties them up. I think I'll have to wait a bit for another dose of the mean streets of Germany, though. Three and a half stars.(less)