Review: The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr

The Pale Criminal
out of 5 murders

Berlin Noir/Bernie Gunther 2

My version:
Fiction Second World War II, crime, thriller

1938, two years after the events of March Violets, Bernie Günther has taken on a partner, Bruno Stahlecker. 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. Günther and Stahlecker discover the blackmailer but Bruno is killed during a stakeout at Hering’s apartment. Günther is summoned to Gestapo offices, where Reinhard Heydrich forces Günther to look for a serial sex murderer, who is killing blond and blue-eyed teenage girls in Berlin and making fools of the police. Günther has no choice but to accept the temporary post of Kriminalkommissar in Heydrich’s state Security Service, with a team of policemen working underneath him.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the second of Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy – also the second of his long-running Bernie Gunther series. I think I’m coming to like Bernie Gunther more as a character as he, or rather Kerr, isn’t trying so hard as he did in March Violets, to out-do every other tired, cynical, wise-cracking, Private Eye in film and/or literature. Kerr has calmed down and so has Bernie, I mean. And both are a lot better for it. The fact that Bernie is a Private Eye in (soon to be) war-time Germany, is enough, I feel. And it is that that now is taking the upper-hand in the story. The evocation of time and period and place, is now effortless and convincing (having read many of what must be the yard-stick of this sort of thing, namely David Downing‘s books).

Bernie Gunther is a tricky character. He’s not cynical, he’s a realist. He’s not an idealist, he’s doesn’t believe in the Nazi’s propaganda, he sees it as what it is, manipulation. He’s not come out against it, he’s just dealing with the shit that comes his way, whoever throws it. He’s not a white knight standing up for what is right, though he will do what is needed when it is needed. He can see what is happening and about to happen with the Jews, so why doesn’t he (or people like him at the time) do anything about it? What could he do? The movement was so strong, so all enveloping, one person couldn’t have done anything to the big picture. But they could and Bernie does, help those around him, those he can help. Without getting himself killed.

The war hasn’t begun yet in Germany, but the preparations are there for all to see. The book deals with the absurdity of the mind-set of the top Nazis who were leading their own people to slaughter for their idiotic, ideals. It seems that everyone s watching and waiting to see what will happen. The resulting slaughter and destruction that we in the 21st Century know all about, hasn’t been seen as a consequence. Not that the German people are arrogant enough to think they won’t be affected or their mighty country will be destroyed. I think it’s more they can’t really believe anyone would be so stupid as to lead them and the world into such a position.

The search for the child serial murderer, had shades of the ‘no crime possible in a Communist State, situation of Stalin’s USSR in Child 44.  Which again is a paradox, in that the extreme right-wing National Socialists, were plagues by the same sort of paranoid mentality, that the extreme left-wing Communists were. So, all dictatorships are the same. Whatever the colour.

A thoroughly well-written, well-plotted and interesting book. All the right things in all the right places, now for number three.

Buy Berlin Noir at The Book Depository

Relevant reviews on Speesh Reads:

March VioletsZoo StationChild 44





Me on Goodreads

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