(Submitted by Glenda W. Anderson)
If you have not as yet read any novels in the Bernie Gunther series, then, lucky you! Many hours of pleasurable fiction await as British author Phillip Kerr sweeps you back in time with his keen intertwining of who-dun-it with a sharp eye to history.
Well, thank goodness Kerr did not utilize his graduate readings in law or philosophy (both in German). Rather, the former ad man from Saatchi and Saatchi turned his vast talents to writing, and prolifically so. His greatest success is his hero-detective, Bernhard Gunther.
Bernie first comes to life in March Violets set in Nazi Berlin, published in 2004. Salman Rushdie, praised Kerr’s novel: “brilliantly innovative thriller-writing..”
The books should be labeled: Warning: Addictive!
Bernie is a hardened, sardonic homicide detective who leaves KRIPO to go independent as a missing persons’ investigator during the dark time of Adolph Hitler and his henchmen. Besides wanting to take over all of Europe, and then on to Russia, Hitler’s agenda includes ridding Germany of all Jews, and then ranked top of the list of lesser offenders: Gypsy’s, homosexuals and Masons. Rid, mind you, as in murder. Germany, reeling under the rules of the Versailles Treaty, sees its economy smashed, crushed by vast war reparations debts. Citizen morale is draining down into the gutters. The stage is set for one of History’s most evil people to occupy center stage and work the crowd. Enter stage center: Adolph Hitler.
Bernie, dismally aware just how many diffuse targets account for Germany’s boiling anger, notes that since Hitler makes Jews the “Number One Enemy” responsible for the multitude of Germany’s problems, anti-Semitism catches on as never before: blossoming horrifically, from individual shootings to mass executions; then, secretly upgraded into industrial-strength proportions and efficiencies.
As readers meet Bernie Gunther, he is strolling down a dark street on the eve of the Olympiads. Workers are ridding the city of ugly, cartoonish PR posters defaming Jews. Adolph Hitler is cleaning up. World viewers will not see what is happening behind the scenes, that rumors of National Socialism discrimination of Jews are merely the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of Jews are not only losing their businesses, but are going missing, by the thousands each week (!), parted of hard- earned wealth: gold, insurance policies, art–all confiscated to fund the bloating Nazi war machine and line the personal pockets of high-ranking Hitler-men who, in ordinary times, would never have risen to such heights.
Berlin is no longer the city Bernie loved. Fear and violence crush what had made Germany great: Bach, Schiller, Beethoven, and Durer. Berliners are stunned with fear—from looting and constant violence and murder. By simply uttering a word against the Nazis or failing to Heil Hitler, one might expect a midnight visit by the Gestapo, followed by being thrown into a dark Mercedes, messed up in a torture room, and then crammed into a train’s cattle car. No return ticket. No forwarding address.
As Bernie observes, Berlin is:
“a big haunted house with dark corners, gloomy staircases, sinister cellars, locked rooms and whole poltergeists on the loose, throwing books, banking doors, breaking glass, shouting in the night and generally scaring the owners so badly that there were times when they were ready to sell up and get out. Cowed with fear, they spoke very little, ignoring the carpet moving underneath their feet . . .”
The carpet movers: Hitler’s thug-buddies. Kerr gives delicious descriptions of those sadistic losers, hangers-on with him from the beginning at the time of the raunchy Munich beer hall days. Bernie, as cop or private investigator, or working with the SS or SD, he meets them all:
Richard Heydrich: brainy musician, tall and Aryan-handsome, meticulous, right down to the razor-sharp pleats on the pants of his SS uniform pants, helps designs the Final Solution and SS Einsatzgruppen murder squads in the East.
Heinrich Himmler: snarky mouthed, weak-chinned, homely insecure chicken farmer, fast-tracked to head Hitler’s new private bodyguard: the SS, plans and executes orders for the murder squads in cleansing “dumb” Russian peasants, Jewish Poles, et.al. in making room for German soldier-farmers: Babi Yar, Kiev. Himmler claimed one could recognize a Jew by his dark, conspiring lewd looks. Upon hearing that, one asserted, “if I looked like Himmler, I would not be talking about looks!”
Adolph Eichmann: Bernie first meets up with him in Jerusalem over lunch. Quiet, Eichmann leans back, head tilted; narrow, tight lips topped off by narrow nose and ice cold blue eyes; destined to devise the Final Solution, the one responsible for sending half a million Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz. We know the future: fifty years hence, he is kidnapped from exile in Argentina to face trial in Israel.
Joseph Goebbels: the runt of the pack. Army-reject because of deformed foot is the brunt of secret jokes within the military. Yet, he radiates all things Nazi. Joey, or, The Grip, as they call him behind his back, is a ranting rabble- rouser, Mayor of Berlin and Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda. He loves rubbing shoulders with the movie crowd, producing movies with themes which glorify Hitler and propagate fear of Jews.
Hermann Goering: Kerr paints a delightfully masterful description: The corpulent, decorated pilot of the Luftwaffe, and now its commander, overflows lederhosen and knee socks; sausage fingers adorned by stolen rings; rouged cheeks, happy smile and flickering eyes. And thief of all the art surrounding him.
With such a cast of demons, and twelve whole years of National Socialism, Phillip Kerr will never run out of plots.