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The Pale Criminal

(Bernie Gunther #2)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  5,692 ratings  ·  438 reviews
In the sweltering summer heat wave of 1938, the German people anxiously await the outcome of the Munich conference, wondering whether Hitler will plunge Europe into another war. Meanwhile, private investigator Bernie Gunther has taken on two cases involving blackmail. The first victim is a rich widow. The second is Bernie himself.

Having been caught framing an innocent Jew
Paperback, 273 pages
Published June 28th 2005 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published May 4th 1990)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  5,692 ratings  ·  438 reviews

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There's a fine line between being lovably flawed and being a jerk when it comes to detectives/secret agents and what have you. Last time around, Bernard Gunther was in the former category. You can't blame a guy for having a bleak outlook on life in late-1930s Berlin, and the misogynistic attitude was what it was. In round two of Bernie's adventures, The Pale Criminal , I found him much harder to stomach.

It's not just the bedding of women during sex crimes investigations that got me, so
Roman Clodia
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berlin, 1938: the Nazis are firmly in power and we're moving menacingly towards Kristallnacht. Gunther is faced with an intriguing double plot of gay blackmail and the serial murders of pretty Aryan girls. But is there really a sex maniac/ritual murderer on the loose - or is something far more sinister behind the cases?

Kerr has got some fascinating detail here especially on Nazi responses to psychotherapy and mental health - but Gunther's rampant sexist commentary and creepy lechery is just
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-ll
I read this all in one day. I repeat; in Nazi Germany, Bernie Gunther would have been dead ten times by page 50. But I'll forgive Phillip Kerr, if only for the great sensory pleasure of immersing myself in the reality of his description. He seems to know every neighborhood, every street, every boulevard, every music hall and restaurant and government building and whorehouse, the accents spoken by Germans from Nuremberg or Bavaria, and which Nazis were bad, or not so bad. The depth of his ...more
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is book #2 in the Bernie Gunther saga. It is 1936 and the dark cloud of National Socialism covers everything. Bernie is still depressed over the disappearance of his secretary/lover and he is trying to adjust to having a partner in his detective practice.

“I had another argument with my boy Heinrich when I got back from the Zoo.” (his partner mentions)
“What was it this time?”
“He’s only gone and joined the motorized Hitler Youth, that’s all.”
I shrugged. “He would have to have joined the
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: fans of historical crime fiction
I finally finished this novel and dare to say that it is without any doubt the worst of the Bernie Gunthers' novels I have read so far, with two more to go.

Bernie is working as a PI after been out of the Berlin kripo (KRIminal POlizei = police) and he gets put back in his job by some serious Nazi big wigs simply because he is a good cop and in these days of Nazis getting all the good jobs there is a serious lack of cops who can actually work a case. The case being good German Aryan girls being
Alex Cantone
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kindermann’s clinic stood off a quiet road in a large but well-behaved sort of garden that sloped down to a small backwater off the main lake and included, among the many elm and chestnut trees, a colonnaded pier, a boathouse and a Gothic folly that was so neatly built as to take on a rather more sensible air. It looked like a medieval telephone kiosk.

Berlin, 1938. Former detective turned PI Bernie Günther meets police chief Arthur Nebe under cover of darkness, Nebe gives him the heads up that
Mark Capell
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thought I was done with reading the traditional hard-boiled detective. Perhaps I picked this up in a nostalgic mood. I think it was Mark Lawson who talked about the three Ds of hard boiled detective fiction - drink, depression and divorce. Yes, it might be a truism that a lot of detectives in real life suffer from all of these, but it's been done to death in detective fiction. I love the novels of Henning Mankell and Ian Rankin, whose detectives are similarly inflicted but recently I vowed not ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At The Very Gates of Hell

Down these mean streets... The genius of Kerr is that he takes the dark dreary Hardboiled detective Gunther and placed him not on the mean streets of Los Angeles, but in the midst of Hitler's Germany in the very gates of Hell, on the eve of Kristalnachtt. In so doing, Kerr paints a picture of sadism, debauchery, and fear, that is uncanny. You can feel how dark the very skies are becoming, how thick the air is, how twisted logic has become.

This book has Gunther
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Jeez these books are grim. There's a great blending of fiction and history here: real people, book characters, real headlines and crimes mixed with fiction. I found it grim because I knew what would happen in November 1938 -- Kristallnacht. What could be more perfect for noir that Nazi Germany?
Oct 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Whilst not quite as good as 'March Violets', the first of the Bernhard Günther novels by Philip Kerr, this is an absorbing and exciting read.

Set in 1938, two years after the events of 'March Violets', Bernie Günther has taken Bruno Stahlecker, another ex-police officer, as his partner. The two are working on a case where a Frau Lange, owner of a large publishing house, is being blackmailed for the homosexual love letters her son Reinhardt sent to his psychotherapist Dr. Kindermann.

As in 'March
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was brilliant - extremely well researched, as was March Violets, nuanced and layered with meaning and allusions. You never quite get a handle on the Bernie Gunther of this book - one minute he's pondering Baudelaire, the next he's fantasizing about an attractive woman.

I'm in awe of Philip Kerr's work in the first two books in the Bernie Gunther series. To set his character in pre-war Nazi Germany and to trace the society's descent into madness is nothing short of brilliant as
Rowena Hoseason
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
Philip Kerr wrote his original Berlin Noir trilogy nearly three decades ago and the Pale Criminal is the second in the series centred around Bernie Gunther. He's a cynical, sardonic detective haunted more by his own inadequacies than he could ever be intimidated by National Socialism.

The Gunther novels dependably provide a well-researched window into the life of a policeman in Nazi Germany, a skewed view of how historical events might’ve looked to der Mann auf der strasse; Kerr’s wicked ability
Mayar El Mahdy
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Why am I doing this? Why do I read a book with whose main character acts like a mid-life crisis with a retarded sense of humor?

I hate Bernie Gunther, hated him here more than the first one even. Will I read the third book? I might, and I'll hate myself every moment of it.
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Bernie’s investigations continue in The Pale Criminal. It’s a few years later and Hitler is about to move into Czechoslovakia. He is hired to find the blackmailer of a wealthy widow who owns a large publishing firm. Her son is being treated in a fancy sanitarium (psychotherapy has been ruled illegal by the Nazis — one of their few sensible actions) for his homosexual tendencies. As that persuasion has also been made illegal, he is a prime candidate for a concentration camp, so his mother is ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Unlike when a detective such as Gunther restores the world to it's usual frame by the end of the book, here we have Gunther fighting against windmills. Windmills who continue to gather in strength and deviousness. Shall Gunther continue, he must to survive, shall I continue to read, yes I will.

From the Author's Note
The Kristallnacht pogrom of 9 and 10 November 1938 resulted in 100 Jewish deaths, 177 synagogues burnt down and the destruction of 7,000 Jewish businesses. It has been estimated that
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
Probably 3.5 stars. Well written, but there is only so much Nazi sadism, sex and violence I can stomach. Kerr certainly doesn't wallow in it, but there still is too much exposure to the violent fetishes of 1938 Germany for me to really say I enjoyed this novel. That said, it was well written and original in its plot and story. There are no lack of victims and criminals to populate this Berlin Noir story. Not a book I'd necessarily recommend to my friends and family, but not a novel I'd run from ...more
Rick Slane
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I guess I read this twice. It is set in Germany 1938.
Jim Durrett
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was dark. I really felt some of the terrible sadness that many of the German people felt during Hitler's rise to power and the suffering of the Jews. Interwoven in all this is a huge conspiracy against the Berlin Jews involving the deaths of many young German girls. Gunther (P.I) is challenged throughout questioning his own morality. I think Kerr did a wonderful job with this novel.
"When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it." - Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett was the master of noir and Philip Kerr seemed determined to follow in his footsteps. But his series featuring gumshoe Bernie Gunther is set not on the mean streets of LA but on the meaner streets of Berlin in the era when National
Apr 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Second in the series featuring PI Bernie Gunther; in this volume WWII is well under way. Berlin is being plagued by a series of ritual murders of young Aryan women; the murders have routinely been pinned on Jewish suspects, but this practice is becoming an obvious nonsense since, despite the luckless Jews having been killed or banished to concentration camps, the killings have continued. Heydrich, aware that most of the cops under his command are incompetent political appointees,dragoons Bernie ...more
Jan 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: black-as-night
To put it simply this was not as enjoyable as the first Bernie Gunther novel. A shame perhaps but it was still an impressive entry in the series.

Whereas previously Bernie was constantly sardonic in his attitude towards the world and as such an extremely likable protagonist in The Pale Criminal he is tougher to like. Whether this is in response to the ever growing presence of a Nazi led war or just his new placement back in the Berlin police force it's hard to say but without that humour this was
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Makes me so sad that Kerr died. He was an amazingly prolific writer with such good research on 20th century Germany.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've been looking for crime fiction written by contemporary authors lately, and this book was recommended to me by a friend. These days a good many seem to be saying that fiction about nazis, ex-nazis, hiding nazis and back-from-the-dead nazis is all played out, and I see where they're coming from. Nevertheless, I I'd argue there's still room for more. This isn't ostensibly a book about nazis, anyway, but it really is a story where nazi ideology plays a very central role in proceedings -- a ...more
Magnus Stanke
Oct 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I was going to give this book '4 stars' - it's much better than the first in the series, in that the writing is much less over-packed with self-conscious similies. While Philip Kerr is obviously still trying to emulate - or shall I say 'channel' - Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled style of narration (which I don't blame him for one bit), he's found his own style within those parameters here.
However, totally unforgivable as far as I'm concerned, especially in a book that set's in Nazi Germany
Wendy Ballard
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Philip Kerr's books. The Pale Criminal is in the Bernie Gunther series, and is set in the years right before World War II. Gunther is not a fan of Hitler and leaves the police force in Berlin when being a policeman is not the same anymore. He becomes a private detective, but soon is drawn back to the police force when a high ranking official on the force wants Gunther to help solve the disappearances and murders of young girls in Berlin.

Gritty and at times gruesome, this audio will keep
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Usually I like reading historical fiction that deals with WWII and Germany in that era. I do like how this novel describes the period, but it is so dark. As the abstract states: “Hard-hitting, fast-paced, and richly detailed, The Pale Criminal is noir writing at its blackest and best.” I will need to wait some time before I read another in this trilogy, if I do. This one was so grisly that it was difficult for me to finish. Philip Kerr is a good writer, and the narrator, John Lee brings the book ...more
Interesting look at pre-war Nazi Germany. The story revolves around a private detective solving the murder of his partner and, related, the murders of several young girls. More than a story the author brings the reader into an atmosphere of ethical evil, weaving in historical details of those dark times.

My beef? The constant sexual graphic references which, though common for the times, were over the top - especially the very negative and derogatory references to homosexuals.

The narrator of the
Nov 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started with number five or six and enjoyed very much my first few Bernie Gunther novels, by Philip Kerr, but whilst delving into his 'back catalogue' I came across 'Pale Criminal', the second in the series, and I was struggling to finish it as it seemed a little too contrived, and too many coincidences, and too much flippancy (that began to grate, and remove the credibility quotient)...but I have tracked down more of his earlier works and I hope to find them more convincing.
Rachel Pollock
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I didn’t hate it, but the gruesome rapes/murders of the teenage girls are rough to read and feel gratuitous in a sense. Really illustrated how done I am with books where women exist to be brutalized as plot devices.
Abtin Bahador
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
It lacked a lot of what made the first book so good.

The first book was a detective story about 1936 Berlin. This second book was a hunt for serial killer that could've been in any era, and just happened to be in Nazi Germany.

The subplot about Nazis and the occult feels forced. Like it was thrown in there because the author remembered he was supposed to be doing something related to the time period.
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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.

Other books in the series

Bernie Gunther (1 - 10 of 14 books)
  • March Violets (Bernie Gunther, #1)
  • A German Requiem (Bernie Gunther, #3)
  • The One from the Other (Bernard Gunther, #4)
  • A Quiet Flame (Bernie Gunther, #5)
  • If The Dead Rise Not (Bernard Gunther, #6)
  • Field Gray (Bernard Gunther, #7)
  • Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther, #8)
  • A Man Without Breath (Bernie Gunther #9)
  • The Lady from Zagreb (Bernard Gunther, #10)
  • The Other Side of Silence (Bernie Gunther, #11)
“Yes indeed, I thought, a neat piece of theatre. I was going to enjoy putting these people away. You can sometimes forgive a man who works a line, but not the ones who prey on the grief and suffering of others. That was like stealing the cushions off a pair of crutches.” 0 likes
“as great a blight on our world as a missionary landing on Tahiti with a boxful of brassieres.” 0 likes
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