Review: A German Requiem by Philip Kerr

Berlin Noir
of 5 stars

My version:
Historical Fiction Thriller, Second World War

1947. The private eye has survived the collapse of the Third Reich to find himself in Vienna. Amid decaying imperial splendour, he traces concentric circles of evil and uncovers a legacy that makes the wartime atrocities seem lolly-white in comparison.

There are clearly some who don’t want the war to be over. Mainly those who both started it and survived relatively intact. In fact, there are a whole network of Germans who don’t seem to believe they lost. They’ve just suffered a minor stumbling block on the way to their rightful regaining of world power. It is those, many from Bernie Gunther’s past, he comes up against in A German Requiem. Though actually set for the large part in Austria. Maybe to symbolise the fact that the out-of-touch old Germans he comes up against, actually want to re-create the Habsburg era.

A German Requiem felt the most subtly complex and thoughtful of the three (so far) in the Bernie Gunther series. Actually the third in the series, and more often than not sold in a trilogy with March Violets and The Pale Criminal, it actually feels a little like a summing up, as if it could well have been the final book in a trilogy if he didn’t get the go-ahead to carry on. I found it gelled very well with another book about the period just after the Second World War I was reading at the time, called Savage Continent. Not as savage as some of the stuff in that, it does recreate the feeling there must have been about at the time very well indeed as far as I can see. The story seems more of an overview of the situation many Germans and many in Europe found themselves in at the time (I’ll rule out Great Britain from this, as the threat of Nazis left behind and/or Communist take-over from the East was not really a major concern in Birmingham B31, where my family were at the time). But the feeling of uncertainly there must have been, comes over well. Of hoping for the best, but realising you did that before the war and look what happened there. Of wanting to get rid of the old Nazi system, but maybe thinking that at least that was better than what the Russians had on offer. All comes over very well.

There are – again – a few too many, too forced similes (I have no idea how many were common currency at the time, I’m guessing he’s researched it appropriately enough). Yes, I’ll go along with that they were used during the period, but not all in the same sentence or paragraph. Gets a bit “get on with it!” Fortunately, while being mostly the perpetrator of these sins against understanding, Bernie Gunther manages to come out of it as a really strong, admirable character. Exactly as I guess Kerr wants him to be. The sudden fast forward to 1947 is a little confusing sometimes at the start. I had a ponder a few times as to why he didn’t go into Gunther’s wartime exploits. I came up with – that they would have been largely what has been done and described many times (in other books) before. And too limiting, if he set out in black and white what Gunther got up to, it would be hard to drag in things from his wartime past, in future novels (of which there are many). Some of what happens does get revealed when appropriate and it all feels right and proper doing it that way.

I’ve grown to like and respect Bernie Gunther more and more as the series goes on. I’m not saying this is going to beat David Downing‘s series, but it’s coming very close.

You can buy Berlin Noir (the three first Bernie Gunther novels) at The Book Depository

You may also like these reviews on Speesh Reads:

March VioletsThe Pale CriminalZoo StationSavage Continent




Me, on Goodreads

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