Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bernie Gunther: Ready for His Closeup

Prussian Blue (A Bernie Gunther Novel) – Philip Kerr – (Marian Wood Books/Putnam)

While I hesitate to say it, there is a certain elegance to bestselling author Philip Kerr’s prose that you don’t normally find in the spy mystery genre. The reason I hesitate is that I don’t want to make it seem limp and artsy-fartsy because it is anything but that; his use of narrative, setting and character meld seamlessly together to take the reader back into the time and place of the story.

In the case of the latest installment of what has been dubbed by some as Berlin Noir, entitled Prussian Blue, Kerr drops former detective Bernie Gunther into 1956, post World War II as he struggles to get by on the French Riviera in the employ of a hotel. Gunther palpably yearns for the a return to Germany, but given his checkered history that is not a viable choice. Gunther’s past comes knocking in the form of a deputy from the East German secret police, a former Nazi, Ernst Mielke and a former colleague Friedrich Korsch.

Mielke offers a chance at a return, if not at redemption when he lures Gunther to a decadent dinner, where the Stasi officer prods Gunther into murdering a British female agent, Anne French, (who debuted in Kerr’s The Other Side of Silence) against whom Bernie would dearly like to exact revenge. Gunther’s interactions with Korsch can’t help but dredge up his past and Kerr skillfully blends the narrative between the current and the past, in this case a wartime investigation dating back to 1939.

As he has done consistently throughout the Gunther series, Kerr is a master at weaving his fictional characters into stories involving real life historical figures like Reinhard Heydrich, Martin Borrman and even Adolf Hitler along with locals and infrastructure from the era. Kerr has the unfailing ability to wrench skillful prose out even the most pedestrian of violence and paint a picture of winter in Germany is a series of gray tones you can almost feel.

Prussian Blue offers up great pacing and a steady drumbeat of turns to propel the story forward. There is an almost cinematic aspect to the writing that make me wonder why, to the best of my knowledge, Gunther has never made it to the big screen.

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