In February, when I was reading books set in different countries of the world I read the first book in Philip Kerr’s series of crime novels featuring Bernie Gunther and set in Germany You can read my review of March Violets here. I enjoyed that book a lot so I purchased the second in the series The Pale Criminal. As part of a series this fits well into this month’s theme for my 12 in 12 Challenge.
This book is set in just pre-war Berlin. Bernie is a private detective trying to survive in the very oppressive political and cultural environment of Nazi Germany. He finds himself reenlisted into the police service, almost by force, and tasked with trying to discover who has killed a number of girls who have gone missing. This involves him with some of the key figures of the day and the events leading up to Kristallnacht. It helps if you know a little bit about the Nazi rise to power but it is not absolutely essential to understand the plot and the characters. You also don’t have to have read the first book in the series to understand this one.
Bernie Gunther is almost a stereotypical private detective. He is a loner who fights with authority and always has a quip for every situation. You could think of him as similar to Philip Marlowe. He is a hard man but, at heart a man who believes in fairness and justice, although those are two things which are hard to come by in the society in which he lives.
I enjoyed this book a lot. The actual plot was interesting and cleverly done. Bernie and those he mixes with are jaded and flawed although some are using the advent of Nazism as an excuse to be brutal. The author carefully uses the historical background to create an atmosphere of impending doom although the reader knows what is coming more clearly than the characters. This is a fascinating period in twentieth century history and I think that the book shows well, albeit in a fictional form, what it must have been like for people at the time.
Now I have read two books in the series I am intending to go on and read more. I already have the third instalment which is set after the war – I want to see what has happened to Bernie in the meantime.