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

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr
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's review
Mar 19, 12

bookshelves: berlin-noir
Read from February 28 to March 19, 2012

On Berlin Noir

I like Bernhard Gunther – the protagonist of the three stories that make up Berlin Noir. He was an ex-cop or Bull on the Berlin Police Force who resigned his post because of the shenanigans on the Force sliding toward a Gestapo influence which saw justice taking a back seat to enforcing the political agenda of the Nazis.

We follow Bernie in his role as Private Detective on the streets of Berlin and Vienna during the rise and fall of Hitler’s regime . He is irreverent - much to the chagrin of Hermin Goering who recruited him in March Violets, the first Novel of the trilogy. He is principled, tough and intelligent - much to the relief of Reinhard Heydrich who recruited him to solve the murders of young Aryan girls that Heydrich’s incompetent, pretend-police officers could not. A tale told in The Pale Criminal. He is vulnerable - much to the relief of Palkovinik Poroshin, a colonel in the Soviet secret police known as the MVD, who recruited him to investigate the arrest of a black marketer whom Bernie knew many years before and to whom Poroshin himself owed a debt of gratitude. And much to Bernie’s distrust of anything Russian, due to his time as a Red Army POW, he agreed to undertake the assignment because he could not deal with the fact that his wife had become a sparkler to American soldiers. Time away from Berlin, he reasoned, would put his wife’s survival sex into perspective, perhaps even save their marriage. This complex tale is told in A German Requiem.

Resigning from the Berlin Police Force, even after he had established a nation-wide reputation as one of the best detectives going, being recruited - read extorted - by two high-ranking Nazis and one high- ranking Soviet official are the bookends of an intriguing, disturbing and illuminating saga of the pre and post WW II lives of ordinary Berliners. It is all the more remarkable because Bernhard Gunther did not join the Party, did not have an axe to grind with the Jews, spoke his mind to anyone who wanted to know what he really thought, and maintained a pre-Nazi professional ethic.

Snippets are revealing.

I stood up and walked out of his office. I hadn’t intended to handle it that way, but I hadn’t liked what I’d seen of Neumaier’s operation. In the shop Coathanger was half-way through offering an old woman a price for her jewel-box that was less than she might have got for it at the Salvation Army hostel. Several of the Jews waiting behind her looked at me with an expression that was a mixture of hope and hopelessness. It made me feel about as comfortable as a trout on a marble slab, and for no reason that I could think of, I felt something like shame. March Violets


‘On the SS. Whether they decide to court-marshal them or not.’ I watched his handsome young face crease with puzzlement. ‘Oh, didn’t I tell you? Yes, these men, the ones who murdered your father in such a cowardly fashion, they were all SS officers. You see, they had to kill him because he would probably have tried to stop them from breaking the law. They were evil men, you see, Heinrich, and your father always did his best to put away evil men. He was a damned good policeman.’ I waved my hand at all the broken windows. ‘I wonder what he would have thought of all this?’

Heinrich hesitated, a lump rising in his throat as he considered the implication of what I had told him.

‘It wasn’t – it wasn’t the Jews who killed him then?’

‘The Jews? Good gracious no.’ I laughed. ‘Where on earth did you get such an idea? It was never the Jews. I shouldn’t believe everything you read in Der Sturmer, you know.’ The Pale Criminal

I said: ‘I was in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp myself, Frau Becker. For less time than your husband, as it happens. It didn’t make me a spy. Lucky maybe, but not a spy.’ I went to the door, opened it, and hesitated. ‘Shall I tell you what it did make me? With people like the police, with people like you, Frau Becker, with people like my own wife, who’s hardly let me touch her since I came home. Shall I tell you what it made me? It made me unwelcome.’ A German Requiem


I would have like to share schnapps with Bernie Gunther.
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