Margot's Reviews > Berlin Noir: March Violets / The Pale Criminal / A German Requiem

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr
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Feb 25, 11

bookshelves: detective-suspense, holocaust, international
Read in February, 2011

An interesting change of perspective, reading a detective novel set in Nazi Germany from the perspective of a German citizen who gets drawn unwillingly into the Nazi power structure. The stories/movies we encounter in the US about WWII are almost exclusively from the American, or Jewish perspective, so it feels slightly verboten to read something from a different point-of-view. I found the third novel, A German Requiem, particularly interesting for the stories of experiences living in divided Berlin. Although the author is not German (born in Edinburgh, lives in London) I don't know enough to contradict his telling of the life experiences of that time and place.

Gritty & hard-boiled, with a few too many elaborate similes and metaphors. I enjoy the somewhat messy endings, however, when not everything is wrapped up tidy with a bow. And there's some edge-of-your-seat double agent action, to boot!

A few examples:
March Violets:
"Calling it a poor area is a bit like saying that Joey Goebbels has a problem finding his size in shoes."(37)
"And as I'm always saying, 'Who isn't a National Socialist when there's a gun pointed at his head?'"(44)

The Pale Criminal:
"Pipe-smokers are the grandmasters of fiddling and fidgeting, and as great a blight on our world as a missionary landing on Tahiti with a boxful of brassieres."(257)
"All the same, there is no denying the hypnotic effect that the Fuhrer's speeches seem to have on people. Certainly the crowd at the Sportspalast seemed to appreciate it. I expect you had to be there to get the real atmosphere. Like a visit to the sewage plant."(410)
"The simple fact of the matter is that a man who wakes alone will think of having a woman just as surely as a man who wakes with a wife will think of having breakfast."(441)

A German Requiem:
"The morning was colder than a mohel's knife, and I was glad to start the day in a reading library on Hardenbergstrasse."(577)
"Like I always say, Herr Doktor, we can survive defeat, but heaven help us from another liberation."(611)
"The language of bureaucracy was the only second language that an Englishman would ever be capable of speaking well."(676)
"And then, a few days before I was discharged, it came to me in a sickening realization. Because I was a German these Americans were actually chilled by me. It was as if, when they looked at me, they ran newsreel film of Belsen and Buchenwald inside their heads. And what was in their eyes was a question: how could you have allowed it to happen? How could you have let that sort of thing go on?
Perhaps, for several generations at least, when other nations look us in the eye, it will always be with this same unspoken question in their hearts."(824-5)
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