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'A man doesn't work for his enemies unless he has little choice in the matter.' So says Bernie Gunther. It is 1954 and Bernie is in Cuba. Tiring of his increasingly dangerous work spying on Meyer Lansky, Bernie acquires a boat and a beautiful companion and quits the island. But the US Navy has other ideas, and soon he finds himself in a place with which he is all too familiar - a prison cell. After exhaustive questioning, he is flown back to Berlin and yet another prison cell with a proposition: work for French intelligence or hang for murder. The job is simple: he is to meet and greet POWs returning to Germany and to look out for one in particular, a French war criminal and member of the French SS who has been posing as a German Wehrmacht officer. The French are anxious to catch up with this man and deal with him in their own ruthless way. But Bernie's past as a German POW in Russia is about to catch up with him - in a way he could never have foreseen. Bernie Gunther's seventh outing delivers more of the fast-paced and quick-witted action that we have come to expect from Philip Kerr. Set in Cuba, a Soviet POW camp, Paris and Berlin, and ranging over a period of twenty years from the Thirties to the Fifties, Field Grey is an outstanding thriller by a writer at the top of his game.

567 pages, Paperback

First published October 28, 2010

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About the author

Philip Kerr

114 books1,799 followers
Philip Kerr was a British author. He was best known for his Bernie Gunther series of 13 historical thrillers and a children's series, Children of the Lamp, under the name P.B. Kerr.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 483 reviews
Profile Image for Francesc.
382 reviews193 followers
July 25, 2022
Una novela muy entretenida. El personaje de Bernie Gunther, genial. Y la mezcla de la época y la ambientación está bien lograda.

A very entertaining novel. The character of Bernie Gunther, great. And the mix of time and setting is well achieved.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
March 24, 2013
I love the pitch perfect tone in this noir tale set largely in Germany over the period from the 30’s to the 50’s. If you define noir in terms of a cynical, loner detective hero who seeks justice in an environment of pervasive corruption, the lead character Bernie Gunther’s struggle to maintain some kind integrity as a homicide inspector amid the extremist forces of Nazi, Communist, and capitalist factions before, during, and after World War 2 puts this series in the position of classic noir in spades. Here we are late in the series, and despite this being my first foray with it, this entry works well for me because it puts his whole career in perspective through a backward facing plot.

At the beginning of this tale, Bernie is working security for Meyer Lansky in Havana in 1954, where he has fled from position in Berlin due to being framed by powerful enemies. On a boat trip, he gets picked up as suspicious by the U.S. Navy and imprisoned in Guantamimo. Over a long period of interrogation at multiple sites, his background becomes interesting to the FBI and then the CIA, first as a potential Nazi war criminal in hiding and then as a source of leverage against current enemies in the nasty Cold War.

Bernie’s skills as a homicide detective before and during the war were valued enough that his boss, the infamous director of State security forces, Heydrich (aka: architect of the Kristallnacht pogrom and later the Holocaust), ignored his lack of membership in the Nazi Party. As Bernie spins a complex web of truth and lies, one particular person in his past, Erich Mielke, becomes a focus for the interplay with his arrogant captors. When Mielke was a communist dissident youth in 1931, Bernie saved him from being killed by brownshirts, and Bernie’s perilous path through the war intersects that of Mielke in interesting ways that affect Bernie’s fate. I didn’t learn about how important Mielke became for Russia until the book’s afterword, so I won’t spoil it here (just check out the Wikipedia entry afterward if you tackle this book).

Berlin headquarters of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), 1926-1933. Heydrich, at right, rose to power as head of the SS through founding of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) with a mission of violent suppression of anti-Fascist forces such as the KPD. Most of those exiled in Russia were killed in Stalin's Great Purge of 1937-38--he didn't trust traitors or appreciate their Trotskyite leanings.

Nazis march in Paris in June 1940, only 6 weeks after invasion. Fall of Berlin in May 1945.

Axis dominated Europe in 1942. Division of Germany after the war. West Berlin is the small yellow spot in Soviet controlled East Germany.

A key pleasure of classic noir comes from the dialog and distinctive internal voice of the hero. Here, instead of Marlow’s over the top metaphors about a slinky babe, we get the spice of a bon mot about the arrival of the corpulent Goebbels, (the “Mahatma Propagandi”) in Paris after France surrendered in 1940: “He looked like a malignant goblin on his best behavior.” As another great example for Kerr’s take on the feisty mind of our hero, dig the poetry in this deft capturing of the menace shown by a Nazi vice cop sent to occupied Paris:
He smiled without smiling—the sort of expression a snake has when it opens its mouth to swallow something whole. He was smaller than me, but he had the ambitious look of a man who might eventually swallow something larger than himself.

For a narrative voice, Bernie is in isolation so much we often get him literally talking to himself or to ghosts in his memory. At one point, he even gets to address a vision of Hitler, prompted by his stay in the cell where he wrote Mein Kampf in the prison near Munich used by the Americans for suspected war criminals. Even talking to himself, Bernie’s sardonic humor wins my heart:

…I would try to engage myself in conversation. But this wasn’t so easy. For one thing, I didn’t like Bernhard Gunther very much. He was cynical and world-weary and hardly had a good word to say about any one, least of all himself.
“I bet you had a difficult childhood, too,” I said. “Is that why you became a cop?” To get even with your father? You’ve never been very good with authority figures, have you? Trying to do the right thing has never really worked for you, Gunther, has it? You should have just been a criminal like most of the others. That way you’d have been on the winning side more often.”

A metaphor for the tarnish on Bernie’s soul comes from the uniform he had to wear when the civilian police became blended with the SS, and he was put into the service of military intelligence. He tells his CIA interrogators:

Before the war, the last war, I was a cop in Germany. An honest cop, too, although I guess that won’t mean much to apes like you. Plainclothes. A detective. But when we invaded Poland and Russia they put us in gray uniforms. Not green, not black, not brown, gray. Field Grey, they called it. The thing about gray is you can roll around in the dirt all day and still look smart enough to return a general’s salute.

While working in Ukraine, Bernie gets captured and begins a long period as a POW with a trip in a cattle car to a Russian camp:

Staring out of a gap in the planks on the side of our cattle car at the endless Russian steppes, it was the sheer size of the country that defeated you. …”How did that bastard Hitler ever think we could conquer a country as big as this?” said someone. “You might as well try to invade the ocean.”

After all his travails, about the only long term personal possession he is left with by 1954, is broken piece of a chess knight once given to him by Lasker. The whole book is in a sense a lament over being a pawn so often and his yearning instead for the power to dodge like a knight:

I might have called it my lucky charm but for the salient fact that one way or another I’d not always had the best of luck. On the other hand, I was still in the game, and sometimes that’s all the luck you need. Anything—absolutely anything—can happen as long as you stay in the game. And lately, as it to remind myself of this fact, the little black knight’s head was often held tight in my fist the way a Mohammedan might have used a set of beads to utter the ninety-nine names of God and bring him closer during prayer. Only, it wasn’t closer to God I wanted but something more earthly. Freedom. Independence. Self-respect. No longer to be the pawn of others in a game I wasn’t interested on. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask.

And it isn't too much to ask for me to keep checking in with Bernie in other books to root for him.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,281 followers
April 26, 2011
Field Gray is about the experiences of a Berlin police detective, Bernie Gunther, who becomes entangled in a web of espionage and deceit after being captured by the Red Army in 1945, serving hard time in a Russian POW camp, deflecting back to Germany, escaping to Cuba, being captured by the CIA, and finally being forced to serve for French Intelligence, which ultimately lands him back to his original starting point in Berlin in 1954. Sound interesting? Absolutely! And I felt this novel had such tremendous potential at the start, with Gunther hiding out in an exotic location (Havana) and being blackmailed into taking a mysterious woman (an undercover assassin!) on a boat to Haiti. But quite literally, the action ends there. And that is page 19. The next 300+ pages has Gunther in the hands of one set of interrogators or another, as he is captured before reaching Haiti. So the reader learns his backstory from 1931 through to the present (which is 1954) as he answers questions from whichever holding cell he happens to be in at the time. Therefore, most of the novel is a frame story in that sense. But the problem is, Gunther is just a leaf blowing in the wind. He makes no decisions regarding his own fate, and relates to his past experiences in such a way that there is very little room for the reader to feel emotionally connected to the character or his experiences. At one point, I just stopped caring what happens to him anymore. The last 50 pages finally becomes interesting again as Gunther gets himself involved in a plot to help the French capture a wanted traitor while simultaneously tricking them into helping the Americans capture their wanted criminal—a ruthless Stasi communist who regularly appears throughout Gunther’s backstory (and actually existed in real life). For the first time in the novel, Gunther finally does something. But to get there, you have to suffer through the rest, and that includes the introduction of countless names (I counted over 60 names in the first 100 pages), ninety percent of which have absolutely nothing to do with the course of the novel’s events. It just makes one feel disconnected to Gunther and his plight.

The good thing about this novel is that the author is actually an excellent writer. Lots of sharp humor, lots of wit. Gunther is a wise-cracking gem, and his retorts often evoke an internal giggle. It is also an historical novel in the sense that Gunther’s story takes place amidst events which seem to be depicted pretty accurately, from the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party through to the end of the War and the Nuremberg Trials. That is definitely interesting. But I think this is also supposed to be a spy thriller. Only, where is the thrill?
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews347 followers
June 30, 2011
He still tells a few jokes but by this point in this series he occupies a landscape so hellish that their about as warming as chuckles in the torture room, this series removes all pretensions of detective novel for a more extensive look and a reexamination of this period of history. The monstrosity of the French concentration camps (in place at the start of the war read Koestler’s Scum of the Earth), the idiotic and murderous insanity of Operation Barbarossa, the murderous onslaught of the Red Army on the German population, Soviet POW camps, and the after war maneuverings of the French, American, Russian, East and West German intelligence agencies gives you a harrowing vision of humanity in a time of crisis and a denouncement of the idea that any glory could ever be achieved from something as horrible as war. Field Gray is a panoramic novel of history despite some trappings of detective and spy thriller still in place to add tension and movement to the plot. Morally ambiguous, firmly placed in historical context but not drowning you in over research, funny, and horrifying this series sets the bar for historical spy or detective novel, or the more general historic novel rather painfully high.
Profile Image for Alex Cantone.
Author 3 books33 followers
April 7, 2021
Santiago’s a real melting pot…Jamaicans, Haitians, Dominicans, Bahamians - it’s Cuba’s most Caribbean city. And it’s most rebellious, of course. All our revolutions start in Santiago…

Field Grey opens tantalizingly in Cuba, 1953 where Bernie Gunther, using an Argentinian passport under the name Hausner, is being entertained at the largest brothel in Havana, run by Doña Marina. Also there, Englishman Graham Greene – writing westerns under the name “Buck Dexter”. Lt. Quevedo of the Cuban Military Intelligence (SIM) knows Bernie’s real identity and threatens to deport him back to Germany to face a murder charge unless he spies on underworld figure Meyer Lansky. Both he and Greene are bound separately for Haiti – but only Greene makes it. Travelling with a woman connected to Castro’s communist rebels and wanted for the murder of a police captain, their boat is intercepted by the US Navy.

Bernie is placed in the Guantanamo drunk tank before being flown to a New York prison, interrogated by the FBI who have been told of his true identity, and finally deported to Landsberg Castle in Bavaria, run by the war crimes commission, to be cross-examined in his part in the mass killing of partisans outside Minsk. Leading with his mouth, Bernie gets himself deeper in trouble.

‘I should have made sure I was born somewhere other than Germany in 1896. That way maybe I could have ended up on the winning side. Twice. How does it feel, boys? To sit in judgment on someone else’s mistakes? Pretty good, I imagine. The way you two act anyone might think you Americans really do believe that you’re better than anyone else.’

From the window he sees the familiar figure of Erich Mielke (using an assumed identity), being released from Landsberg, In a flashback to 1931, Bernie tells how, as a Berlin detective, he saved a teenage Mielke – a communist – from being beaten up by fascist youths, only to find him wanted for the killings of two police officers. With help from within the police, Mielke escapes.

Mielke – a thug who became the head of the East German Secret Police (Stasi) - is one of two enduring (if not endearing) historical figures to feature prominently in the Bernie Gunther series. The other is General Reinhardt Heydrich – the suave and sinister head of the Gestapo. In 1938 Heydrich uses Bernie’s detective skills to solve (discretely) the murders of young women in Berlin (The Pale Criminal) – and keeps him around to watch his back against the machinations of Himmler.

In 1940, Heydrich sends Bernie to Paris to facilitate the repatriation of Mielke – held in a concentration camp in Vichy France – to face trial for murder. Here Bernie meets former colleagues Herbert Hagen, last seen in Cairo 1937 (The One from the Other) and Paul Kestner, who set him up – and a sleazy new adversary, Nikolaus Willm. As Heydrich puts it:

‘It’s always disappointing when one discovers that one has been betrayed. But in a sense it is liberating too. It serves as a reminder that that ultimately one can only ever truly rely on oneself… I should also inform you that Kestner is not without connections in Wilhelmstrasse, and that these people have decided to overlook his dishonest role in the Mielke affair. Frankly, if we were to cashier every Sipo officer with an unfortunate past there would be no one left to wear the uniform.’

In one of the most entertaining episodes within the book, Bernie nearly meets a sticky end in a Paris hotel, and once more the slippery Mielke escapes.

The book moves on to the end of the war, with Bernie captured in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) – and sent east to a labour camp in Krasno-Armeesk, then west to Saxony and a uranium mine, where once more his path crosses that of Mielke, who helps him to escape. Or is there a hidden agenda?

As always I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of both key and minor characters.

The man standing in front of us at least looked like a worker. He was around fifty, stocky and short with a bull neck, a receding hairline and an advancing waist. He stared at us suspiciously with small, close-set eyes that were like diacritic marks inside a nought. Short of wearing a towel and a silk dressing gown, he couldn’t have looked any more tough and pugnacious.

Possibly the most ambitious and compelling book of the series, Field Grey is an intelligent read revealing the harsh realities of life in POW camps in France and the Soviet Union, and the machinations of the partitioning forces. Jumping mostly between 1946 and 1954, Bernie needs all his wiles to play off the CIA, French intelligence and the Stasi. As always, there’s a woman in the background to add a romantic touch.

Well recommended, but does not work as a standalone.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,201 reviews260 followers
April 22, 2017
'Field Gray' (Bernie Günther #7) continues immediately where 'If The Dead Rise Not’ finished. Bernie is still in Batista’s Havana in 1954 living under his false identity and both working for, and reluctantly spying on, Meyer Lansky for the secret police. He decides to flee to Haiti. Sadly for him, his female companion has killed a police captain for Fidel Castro and, when they are stopped en route, Bernie is also arrested because he’s still wanted for murder in Germany. Soon he’s in the custody of the CIA in New York, where he is questioned, none too gently, by gum-chewing Cold War naval staff who think he’s a war criminal. Finally he ends up back in Germany where he is interrogated about his time on the Eastern Front and, especially, in Minsk. That is just the start of a nightmarish few weeks for Bernie, with so many twists and turns, and so much intrigue. Against a high benchmark, the dark cynicism in 'Field Gray' (Bernie Günther #7) reaches new levels and makes this book unrelentingly but grimly fascinating. Bernie is now enmeshed in Le Carre's twilight world of Cold War madness in which he appears forever trapped by the agenda of others, whilst being forced to relive the past again and again, whilst - in the present - remaining a consummate chess player to stay one step ahead of those seeking to use him.

The early Bernie Günther books are entertaining Chandler-esque tales where jeopardy and tension drive the narrative along however, each new book seems to become more subtle and complex. 'Field Gray' takes the reader all over Europe to view life throughout WW2 and into the Cold War world of the 1950s, and all over Europe, from occupied Paris to the Eastern Front, and life in a Soviet POW camp. This is the horror of WW2 writ about as large as it can get with poor old, battered Bernie somehow finding the motivation to keep going. Often it’s his anger that sustains him and here it’s variously directed at the Nazis, the French, the Americans, the British, and the Bolsheviks. Quite brilliant. One of the very best in the series, if not the best. Can Philip Kerr sustain this sky high level of quality with 'Prague Fatale' (Bernie Gunther #8)? I should have the answer to that question very soon.

464 reviews2 followers
February 15, 2013
I've read a number of the Gunther books and this one was by far the worst. I wanted to quit reading a number of times but kept going because I enjoyed the others so much. Hopefully this one was a fluke. I'm not going to give up on Gunther yet.
Profile Image for Adam.
Author 21 books89 followers
September 6, 2013
Well, I must admit that I was seduced by what was written on the back cover of this paperback. After about 130 pages of the 563 page book - a fair whack, my affection for the book had worn thin, and I abandoned it. So these are my comments about a book that might well get better later on. However, as time is limited, I have decided to move on to new reading matter.

I did not like what I read of this thriller because it is too obviously laden with factual information. The facts appear to be more important than the fiction. The author's research for historical factual detail had not, in the first 130 pages of his book, surrendered to the the more important task - the telling of a good, engaging tale. This book is supposed to be a work of fiction, rather than a PhD thesis about Nazi war criminals that is lacking in footnotes.

If I had wanted to read about the history of the SS or a related subject, I would have chosen to read a scholarly work backed up with references to the author's source material.

Merged review:

Well, I must admit that I was seduced by what was written on the back cover of this paperback. After about 130 pages of the 563 page book (a Quercus edition, 2011) - a fair whack, my affection for the book had worn thin, and I abandoned it. So these are my comments about a book that might well get better later on. However, as time is limited, I have decided to move on to new reading matter.

I did not like what I read of this thriller because it is too obviously laden with factual information. The facts appear to be more important than the fiction. The author's research for historical factual detail had not, in the first 130 pages of his book, surrendered to the the more important task - the telling of a good, engaging tale. This book is supposed to be a work of fiction, rather than a PhD thesis about Nazi war criminals that is lacking in footnotes.

If I had wanted to read about the history of the SS or a related subject, I would have chosen to read a scholarly work backed up with references to the author's source material.
182 reviews
March 24, 2011
Oh dear oh dear. Why do I put myself through it? Another gripping read about our old friend Bernie, who once again is in a hole and, owing to his capture by the Americans, has to relate his war time exploits. It was never going to be an easy read, I knew that. However when a book makes you look at your sons and wonder what kind of men they will grow into, then you know that it packs a hell of a punch.

There are some weaknesses, Bernie has to be uninvolved in the worst of the fighting and war crimes in order for us, the audience, to retain our sympathy with him.

The punchy writing is shocking, and necessarily so, as Kerr is describing war and all its effects. Shocking, visceral and a story of survivors, at the conclusion the political scene is now set for further adventures in the Cold War. I can't wait for the next one, although I know it's going to be a hard read at times.
Profile Image for Mark.
188 reviews51 followers
April 11, 2018
Philip Kerr's 'Bernie Gunther thrillers' are much more than mere page turners. His absorbing 'Berlin Noir' novels are thoroughly researched and have as much historically authenticity as maybe, and 'Field Grey' is a revelation in its way of tackling the complex period at the end of World War Two, with avenging armies of the different partisan groups, and retreating German forces, and Soviet invading armies in hot pursuit, coalescing, in a maelstrom of vicious and horrific destruction and violence. He reveals much about the protagonists on the ground implementing the ambitions of the Great Powers, and shows the human cost of this convoluted post-war period, and its duplicitous practises, that eventually saw the four power division of Berlin, and the development of obtuse and contradictory strategies of the Cold War.

As a retired History Teacher, I only wish that I might have had enjoyed the good fortune of having this book to hand, in explaining the role Berlin played in the breakdown of the old alliances, and the idealism of some and the cynicism of the many, as relations between the victorious powers broke down and rapprochement was replaced by hostility, as the city eventually saw its permanent division.

Bernie Gunther, himself, is a complex but likeable character. A career policeman of the Berlin Old School, Gunther's hard-bitten cynicism, born from the school of hard knocks and bitter experience, allows him to be his own man despite the competing claims of the various group - Nazis, Communists, American CIA, and even the French Secret Service-for his assistance. He realises he is being played by them all, yet somehow manages to maintain a sense of independence and jocular manner, in his own fight for justice and survival. A great read.

Profile Image for Susan.
114 reviews
April 14, 2011
I fell for Bernie Gunther (and Phillip Kerr) from the moment I started March Violets, and have been following Bernie's exploits ever since.Gunther is a man true only to himself and his own rather twisted morality, yet for some reason you can't help but like him. He is also a complete contradiction - an SS officer who despises the Nazis, a POW of the Russians who refuses to be cowed and a man with no qualms about double-dealing people he cares for to reach his own ends. This is especially true in Field Gray,not so much a mystery as an espionage novel. And in post-war Europe Bernie is mixed up with an alphabet soup of agencies: KGB, CIA,FBI,Staasi, and MI-6. Everybody wants a piece of Bernie, and along the way we learn of his war and post-war years before he landed in Argentina.It's a long sad journey and Bernie has picked up crucial info that everybody seems to want. Since all Bernie wants is his freedom, he plays along with the spooks. Or does he?
I have to admit that all the double-dealing had me quite confused at times as to what was really going on, and had me backtracking to recheck facts. And while not the usual "who done it" I found it a satisfying look into post war politics, and into Bernie's soul.
Profile Image for Benjamin baschinsky.
117 reviews52 followers
July 8, 2020
The best Bernie Gunther novel I have read to date . Skillfully alternating between events of 1940 to 1954 , I am presented with a section of life no one would envy.
Bravo Philip Kerr- RIP
Profile Image for Labijose.
941 reviews401 followers
July 20, 2015
La séptima entrega de Bernie Gunther se asemeja más a un ensayo histórico que a una novela de espías. Abarca desde 1931 hasta 1946, y no por orden cronológico, sino con idas y venidas, concentrándose sobre todo en la vida en los campos de concentración tras la segunda guerra mundial y en las cárceles del periodo de la guerra fría.
Es una novela dura, muy dura, pero está escrita de forma tan magistral que, pese al pesimismo que rezuma, su lectura es un placer. Los diálogos y las reflexiones están a un gran nivel.
El protagonista debería caer antipático, por sus contradicciones y su moral retorcida. Sin embargo, el lector se descubrirá admirando al personaje, y deseando que al final de su camino encuentre la paz que tanto anhela.
Una lectura más que recomendable.
Profile Image for Alex.
Author 46 books199 followers
March 5, 2018
I'm a big fan of Phillip Kerr and the Bernie Gunther novels. Kerr has an amazing ability to insert details you'd never see coming into his stories. These are noir novels in the best traditions of the genre, full of twists and turns and doomed relationships. Bernie Gunther is a tragic hero, a German police detective caught up in the insanity of Hitler's Germany and forces beyond his control. Kerr's extensive research and his exceptional skill as a writer make the stories grimly realistic and believable. Read them all, beginning with Berlin Noir.
Profile Image for Rachael Singh.
88 reviews2 followers
December 8, 2019
After getting very sick and tired of Bernie Gunther in the preceding book, this one was really excellent.
Profile Image for Speesh.
409 reviews28 followers
February 7, 2018
It's impossible not to like Bernie Gunther. In the resourceful, bad luck-prone, ingenious, sharp witted, wise-cracking, escape artist, he has created the absolute perfect character for Historical Fiction. I can think of no flaws, no irritations at all. He's the guy you would hope could be there if you'd have been where he is, was.

Kerr uses him as a vehicle not just for his period jokes and wise-cracks, but as a way of looking at many of the unsavoury aspects of the Germans before, during and after World War 2. This one starts, as above, in 1954, but we're soon back with Bernie in war-time Germany, as events in 1954 set off both memorise of and turn out to have had their roots in the earlier phases of Bernies life.

Even I can see that Field Grey (a reference to the colours of the German Army officer's uniform at this time), is incredibly well plotted. I'd say this is - as I'm, here in the series, though have all the subsequent books in wait - the best one so far. It really is almost a work of art. Full of reflection, incident, and fine, fine writing.

And, as bonus for me, I'd say PK has read Private Schultz at some point.

The best book blog on the web: Speesh Reads
The best Page on the Facebook: Speesh Reads
Profile Image for James.
489 reviews25 followers
November 14, 2019
FIELD GRAY is, I think, the darkest of the seven Bernie Gunther novels I’ve read to date. That says a lot for a series set in Germany in the ‘30s and ‘40s and (so far) South and Central America and newly-divided Berlin in the ‘50s. There’s a very Graham Greene QUIET AMERICAN vibe in this book.

I’m certain there are many interpretations of Kerr’s main message in this novel. It reminded me that the bad guy never sees a bad guy when he looks in the mirror. The capacity to commit evil resides in all of us and manifests itself much more easily than we’d like to admit. “I was just following orders” is all too easy...
Profile Image for  ManOfLaBook.com.
1,145 reviews71 followers
April 14, 2011
“Field Gray” by Philip Kerr is a fictional novel taking place alternatively between the 1931 and mid 1954, mostly in Berlin. The book is 7th novel starring Bernie Gunther.

The past of Bernie Gunther catches up with in 1954 Cuba while doing work for mobster boss Meyer Lansky. Even though this anti-Nazi PI survived the Nazi régime and a soviet POW camp it seems his history won’t leave him alone.

Land­ing in the US prison of Guantánamo and later in New York City, Bernie is interrogated by the FBI about his role as a member of an SS police battalion in WWII. Transferred to Landsberg Prison in Germany Bernie is being questioned and tortured by several governments. Stringing them along, Bernie experiences flashbacks which bring back his war experiences, none of which are good.

I seem to have no luck with series of books I like. I usually find them after several books have been published and feel compelled to play catch up. “Field Gray” by Philip Kerr is no exception on this front.

The novel follows Bernie Gunther which has to be one of the most anti-heroic antiheroes ever written. Joining Gunther are a bunch of offbeat characters none of which, it seems, have any redeeming qualities. Maybe that’s what the “gray” in the title refers to (besides the German army’s uniforms made by Hugo Boss) as there are no good or bad guys in this book; they are all shades of gray.

Mr. Kerr writes with a sardonic, twisted and dark sense humor. This is just the kind of humor which my beloved wife finds adorable in her husband...wait, sorry, she can’t stand it – sometimes I get confused between the two.

The plot kept me going round and round with its twists, as well as thought provoking subjects. I had no idea what would happen until the last few pages. The writing is crisp, atmospheric and noir. Mr. Kerr pulls no punches; he looks at history in the eye, sees all the ugliness which most people would rather forget and instead writes about it.

Bernie Gunther is an unusual creation; he is cynical, tired, tough on himself and done many things none of us would be proud to do. He is an insane man living in an insane world (does that make him sane?) where the only way to survive is to look out for one self and that means screwing over everyone else (who, by the way, are trying to screw you over). I lose my mind when the cable company charges me a do-nothing-because-we-can fee, but Bernie lives everyday knowing that at any point in time someone can swoop in and destroy everything he built in an instant.

One of the things which the book, through my interpretation at least, touches is how ordinary people could justify partici­pating in atrocities.
Think about it.

There weren’t only Nazis in Auschwitz, there were secretaries, cooks, and other administrative nobodies. They bore witness to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, crimes in history yet we have pictures of them enjoying a coun­try side picnic.

Inadvertently or not, we get a glimpse into that kind of mentality with Bernie Gunther. He was forced into the SS and committed his own atrocities; in his head they are justified.
We only get to read his side of it.

For more book reviews please visit http://www.ManOfLaBook.com
Profile Image for William Bentrim.
Author 64 books62 followers
April 7, 2011
Field Gray by Phillip Kerr

This is apparently the 7th Bernie Gunther novel. I haven’t read any of the others. This one deals with a pre-WWII vintage ex-policeman who is tangled in a web of duplicity that permeates Europe after WWII.

Bernie is awash in a sea of trouble that is primarily not of his making. He seems helpless to chart his own course in a world that was changed so dramatically before, after and during World War II. One of the more interesting things about this book is that it forces you to concede that as United States citizens, we are not always right or in the right. I clearly recall doing a paper on the Vietnam war back in 1965 time frame. We were told to have at least 10 sources and only two could be books authored by Americans. That was rather eye opening for a committed ROTC participant in 1965. I discovered that historically, Vietnam had been a quagmire for invaders for centuries. I also discovered that we were totally committed to repeating many of the same mistakes that were made by prior invaders. Invaders is used intentionally for that is apparently how the common people in Vietnam saw Americans.

This book re-ignites some of that skepticism. Bernie does not perceive the British, French or Americans as radically different than the Russians. This forces you to ponder your history. I’m reasonably well read and sadly much of what Bernie Gunther felt in this book could be substantiated.

Kerr writes a very thought provoking novel that is not overly entertaining. It is a good story, rather dark and overtly political. Political in that Kerr seems to have nothing good to say about any government. It does seem that all governments lie to both the world and to their own people. You just have to pick up the paper or log on to the web to be bombarded with deceit. I found the book depressing, not terribly enlightening but well worth reading. I also found that the book made me feel somewhat reassured that, at least, I live in a country whose government lies less to us than most. I am comfortable that is true in that no one in the government seems to be able to keep a secret so that has to inhibit rampant lying that has no consequences or at least I hope so.

I recommend the book.
Profile Image for Toni Osborne.
1,368 reviews45 followers
January 14, 2012
Also published under the title “Field Grey”

Book 7 in the Bernie Gunther mystery series

In this story Bernie Gunther reflects on his past, the good the bad and the ugly. Trying to outrun his shadows has resulted in a lonely life; his personal and political associations have left him a man with a trouble conscience. This is one of Mr. Kerr’s darkest and most complex novels I have read so far.

In the prologue, set in 1950s Cuba, Bernie is living the good life under an assumed name when his life is chattered once again by a local policeman who questions his true identity. In haste, Bernie attempts to leave Cuba by boat however he is intercepted by an American patrol and is taken to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation by the CIA. The intense questioning forces Bernie to eventually reveal his past, his war time activities under Heydrich as an SS field officer and his pre-war association with Eric Mielke prove to be a gold mine of information for his interrogators. He is eventually flown to Berlin to face the music and is given a simple choice: work for the French intelligence or hang for murder. His task is to meet POW’s returning to Germany and finger one particular French war criminal he is familiar with. With this we learn of another period in Bernie’s past as a German POW in Russia and how it comes back to haunt him.

This seventh novel is set in Cuba, a Soviet POW camp, Paris and Berlin, it is a fast-paced and quick-action thriller. Bernie is portrayed as a pawn in a deadly game of espionage by various spy agencies of the Cold War era. The chapters are peppered with strategically placed flashbacks from 1931 to 1946, including events that occurred during the actual war years (all the other books took place before or after the war). Mr. Kerr paints a powerful picture of the struggles of the 1930s, the war and divided post-war Berlin.

“Field Gray” is a brilliantly written novel full of details, a mix of fast-talking, hardboiled crime and historical events delivered in Gunther’s ironically humorous monologue. I am a huge fan of Mr. Kerr’s ability to stir one’s emotions page after page and can only imagine what it must have been like to have lived during such a troubled time.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,302 reviews54 followers
July 12, 2014
Filed gray the title refers to the color of uniform that Bernard Gunther as a police-officer has to wear in his official duty to apprehend a killer of two policemen. Bernard Gunther is a cop in Berlin during the early years in WOII, and he is not a Nazi, he actually does not like the people or their ideoligy. Due to the circumstances in Germany he gets caught up in the war and witnesses a lot of incomprehensable acts of murder and mayhem.

However the book starts in 1954 in Cuba where Bernie tries to escape from the island and ends up in Gitmo, a prision in the US, Landsberg in Germany (Where hey keep the war criminals), Paris France and back again to Berlin. During this trip you get some insight in the prison camps and ethics of the various fractions which shows you the grey areas of which most countries prefer not to talk about. Yes Bernie is much more of a awatcher and a survivor than an actual particpant and his cynical views and wise cracking attitude do little to cover his attempts to stay alive at any means. And he is quite honest about it to mi,self too.

The story does change its direction a few times and one should stick with it because it brings some fascinating writing and views. Mr Kerr is an excellent writer and does know how to tell a tale and teach the writer about history at the same time.

There was some flabbergasting information I doubted and looked up and it is actually tru, I am refering to the trails and results from them post war.

All in all a great enticement to seek out more of Mr. Kerrs adventures of Bernard Gunther.
Profile Image for Irene.
108 reviews140 followers
June 20, 2011
Philip Kerr is a new addition to my list of favorite authors. The varied consensus speculates that one should read the "Bernie Gunther" series in order. Personally, I believe Field Grey unequivocally succeeds as a stand-alone fictional biography of its unconventional protagonist through multi-layered flashbacks.

On the surface, Bernie Gunther appears a bit vapid, but quite emphatically he is a combustible, cunning and knowledgeable former Kripo homicide detective whose photographic memory unfailingly alters even the direst circumstances to his personal advantage. Most compelling in this voluminous and mesmerizing thriller is Kerr's unerring impeccable research which leaves the reader enthralled not only by the intricately woven plot and its irreverent main character, but also pondering the comprehensively accurate historical tidbits peppered throughout.

Perhaps, the cover art of Kerr's books failed to entice me, a regrettable error as it is best not to judge a book by its cover.
Profile Image for Diane Wallis.
43 reviews
April 23, 2011
I've read at least 2 in the series and this was a welcome addition to March Violets and A German Requiem. Why haven't I read A Pale Criminal? I shall soon. Philip Kerr's novels about Bernie Gunther are perfect for those of us who love thrillers about Germany, the lead-up to WWII, the war itself and the aftermath. Both sides of the story are revealed and Gunther is hard-boiled, realistic and a good(ish) guy in the very best German tradition. Never a Nazi, he does object to the post-war American assumption that the US have exclusive ownership of the high moral ground, especially when some of their methods of operation in occupied Germany in the mid-50s are every bit as bad as those they defeated. Read more about the series and background at:
1,236 reviews42 followers
October 28, 2010
Another Bernie Gunther thriller. Love this series so it pains me to say that this one is really a little weak. The story starts with Bernie in Cuba and of course very soon getting into trouble with the authorities whereupon he is passed around different spy organizations over the next years with flashbacks to earlier times to provide background to the plot. The style remains chandlerish but found myself always constantly bemused by the story in part because the plot is complex but more because the choices Bernie made seemed random and made more to justify plot twists than because that is what the character would do. Still if your a fan of the series like I am you will enjoy the book. If you are new to the series I would start with a different novel.
Profile Image for Bill.
1,593 reviews75 followers
August 28, 2019
Field Gray, the 7th Bernie Gunther story, by Philip Kerr was my first exposure to this series. It was well-written and interesting but I'm not sure what exactly to make of it. This may have been one of those series that it is necessary to read from the beginning. Having said that there is more than enough information to get a feel for Bernie and you do get a good look at his past.

So, this is the gist of the story. We start in Cuba in 1954 where Bernie, living under an assumed name is warned that he might be safer if he leaves Cuba. He is paid to take a young woman who has killed a corrupt police officer with him. Leaving on his boat, he is picked up by the US Coast Guard and hauled off to Guantanamo for interrogation by the CIA. He is ultimately taken to New York for further interrogation. The CIA is interested in someone Bernie knew back in Germany, a German communist by the name of Mielke. The story now jumps back and forth from the present to the past as Bernie tells the story of his search for Mielke under orders from SS General Heydrich.

This journey leads him to France, newly conquered by Nazi Germany and split in two; German occupied France and Vichy France. An attempt is made on Bernie's life in Paris. He does find Mielke in a French-run concentration camp in southern France but he doesn't turn him over. We move to various other parts of Bernie's life; as a prisoner in the Ukraine and Russia, his escape, etc. It's all a fascinating story, terrifying as well. Just the utter violence of that war and treatment of people is described in chilling detail.

Back in the present, the CIA and then the French - equivalent want Bernie to assist them in the capture of Mielke and other ex-Nazi war criminals. It does get a bit confusing at times as Bernie's stories change and he is skillful at playing one side off against the other. After years in prisons and being used by various organizations; the Nazis, the Communists, the allied spy services, he just wants to get away and maybe take Elizabeth, the woman who crops up periodically throughout the story and for whom Bernie cares deeply.

All in all it's a rich, interesting story. There is definitely a cynical quality to the story, but I'm assuming that during and after WWII, there was a great deal of cynicism as the powers that be tried to gain as much control as possible in a fractured world. (How's that for profound?) I liked the writing and found Bernie to be a fascinating character. Ultimately the story left me feeling somewhat blasé about the whole thing but I do want to further explore Bernie's life story and adventures. (3 stars)
Profile Image for Belinda Vlasbaard.
3,261 reviews50 followers
June 13, 2022
4,25 sterren - Nederlandse paperback

Ja: absolute top. Ik kwam dit boek in de boekhandel tegen, kocht het, las het in één adem uit en heb vervolgens alle andere boeken van Kerr besteld. En die ondergingen hetzelfde lot: in één adem...

Ik viel van de ene in de andere verbazing. Onaangenaam uiteraard over het nazisme en over de morele dilemma's waar je als individu voor staat.

Aangenaam over de enorm sarcastische humor en spagaten waarmee de Berlijnse anti-nazistische weggezuiverde politie-inspecteur en vervolgens ('Ik kan niks anders') privé-detective Bernie Gunther zijn weg probeert te vinden in de 'zwarte drek', en na afloop van WOII de 'rode drek' van de Sovjet-bezetting. Ook de Amerikaanse, Engelse en Franse bezettingsmacht krijgen er overigens ongenadig van langs.

En Gunther: hij probeert gewoon te overleven, heeft een enorm grote bek, al worstelend compromiteert hij zich bij het leven en probeert dan toch maar weer het 'goede' te doen...

Kerr plaatst Gunther tegelijkertijd in een maatschappelijke omgeving waarvan we voor eeuwig en altijd verschoond zouden willen blijven, nazisme en stalinisme. Want: daar zat het leven bepaald niet simpel in elkaar... Niks, weigerambtenaren: de kogel of de strop, pappen en nathouden, persoonlijk verzet op de vierkante millimeter, want niemand is te vertrouwen...

Blij, heel blij dat het nu anders is.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Frédéric.
1,074 reviews42 followers
July 28, 2017
After being arrested in Cuba Bernie Gunther gets extraded to the USA, first step in a long trip down memory lane.

The trip goes from the early 30's, a time when the german communist party still seems to be a force to be reckoned with, to Ukrain in 41 when Bernie discovers the crimes of the infamous einsatzgruppen, to besieged Koenigsberg in 45 and various russian camps where our hero is imprisoned as a POW.

Along this very interesting trip where we learn more of periods in Bernie's life only alluded to until now, a cold war spy-vs-spy game is engaged between the american CIA, french SDECE and east-german STASI, turning around the real life character of Erich Mielke.
A game where Bernie is a mere pawn, passed from player to player, a situation he quickly gets tired of.

If you're french-I am, or american, try to keep your head cool. Kerr doesn't spare these two nations and exposes openly their arrogance, hypocrisy and other characteristics of the same nature during and after the war. Not to say he's so far from the truth, mind you.
It's not uninteresting to get an external perspective from time to time even if not always pleasant to hear.

Very well documented, to be read as a thriller, this book is a very good one in the Gunther series.
Profile Image for Wayne Zurl.
Author 44 books103 followers
April 23, 2017
FIELD GRAY by Philip Kerr…..

Bernie Günther, the guy I describe as the German Philip Marlowe is back again in FIELD GRAY. But this time Bernie isn’t a pre-war Kripo homicide detective or Berlin private eye. He’s been conscripted into the Waffen SS as an intelligence officer eventually sent to the Russian front.

The story begins with Bernie in 1954 Havana, working as head of casino security for the infamous Meyer Lansky and hobnobbing with another famous character, Graham Greene. The good-natured Bernie sets out on a holiday to Haiti with intentions of trading in his old boat for a newer and bigger one. Bernie is flush with money and invites a local prostitute along for the ride, and coincidentally, to escape the Cuban secret police that are looking to question her about the murder of a policeman—of which she is guilty.

The pleasant boat ride over the Caribbean turns to manure when US Coast Guardsmen out of Guantanamo Bay board Bernie’s boat. The Cuban woman panics and shoots one of the petty officers. The officer in charge doesn’t believe that Bernie is an innocent party, cuffs the pair and returns to the Gitmo detention center.

From there, Bernie embarks on a hapless journey of detention and questioning. At this point I thought FIELD GRAY might be what TV producers call A CLIP SHOW, meaning nothing more than a strung together series of vignettes from earlier episodes—in this case a rehash of all Bernie’s times as a prisoner of war in Russia and the Ukraine during and after WW2.

That was not the case. FIELD GRAY quickly became the quintessential back-story of Bernie’s life not previously covered in detail in the earlier books from the series. We now recognize Bernie Günther as the all time greatest victim of circumstances and one of the most unlucky men of the 20th century.

From his being impressed into the SS by his former boss from the Kriminal Polizei to his captures and escapes during the war to his being captured and interrogated by everyone from the Soviets, the French, US Army military police and lawyers from the Allied Control Commission and then the CIA, to the East Germans in post war Europe. Everyone wants to turn Bernie into an agent or double agent and have no problem hanging the threat of trying him as a war criminal over his head to obtain compliance.

In the world of intelligence nothing is what it seams and no one is straight up about anything. Bernie is victim of double, triple and quadruple crosses, but he lays and springs a few traps of his own along the way to prove that like a feral cat dropped out of a fourth floor window, Günther always seems to land on his feet, albeit with a few bruises and maybe a permanent limp.

Most of these Kerr/Günther novels are called thrillers. I don’t think the term fits FIELD GRAY. It’s a biographical journey through a dark time in European history with a man who met all of the notable people and got involved in all the dirty business that made the Nazi war machine so hated throughout the world.

As with all Kerr’s books, FIELD GRAY reads quickly, is entertaining, thoroughly researched and in this case, in the last few chapters you watch Bernie in action and say to yourself, “What the hell?” I wasn’t sure where it was heading, was surprised how it ended, and now need to read the next in the series to see what horrors will befall Bernhard Günther subsequent to this adventure which ends where it began in 1954.
Profile Image for Bent Hansen.
212 reviews11 followers
September 9, 2019
I am a huge fan of this fantastically well-written and researched series, but this book tripped me up too many times, going back and forth in time with a seemingly neverending line of new names to keep track of.
Profile Image for Tom.
529 reviews6 followers
March 23, 2017
Bernie starts in Cuba but finds his way back to Berlin with the help of the CIA, SDECE and other spies trying to make him do something he doesn't want to do.
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