My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction Germany, Europe
First published: 2016
From the cover:
It is 1956 on the French Riviera. A world-weary Bernie Gunther is working as a concierge at The Grand Hotel, St. Kean Cap Ferrat, living under a false name. The Riviera retains its louche glamour even in these gloomy post-war years – a sunny place for shady people-
Bernie plays Bridge to stave off boredom and misses his old detective life. Then his past walks in through the door in the shape of Harold Hennig, a former Captain in the Nazi security service. Bernie never forgets a face, especially when it belongs to a mass murderer who, in 1945, was responsible for the deaths of thousands, among them a woman Bernie loved. Since the war, Hennig has enjoyed a lucrative career as a blackmailer.
Hennig’s target on the Cote d’Azure, is a famous resident with a dark past and plenty to hide – the writer Somerset Maugham. A shared love of Bridge draws Bernie to Maugham’s magnificent villa Mauresque, where Maugham tells him of a compromising photograph that reveals a lot more about Maugham’s life than his notorious sexuality. Taken in 1937, it shows a group of naked men beside a swimming pool – one of whom is the infamous spy and homosexual, Guy Burgess, who, with Donald Maclean, has recently defected to Moscow. Hennig has the photograph and is demanding 50,000 for its release.
Bernie is reluctant to become Maugham’s agent, but his former life has made him as vulnerable to blackmail as Maugham himself. Not only that – he has a massive score to settle with Hennig.
Every time I read a new Philip Kerr Bernie Gunther novel, I’m thinking ‘this has to be the best one so far.’ It happened again with The Other Side of Silence. Several times. I have a special place in my all time top books of all time by Philip Kerr, for Field Grey, and The Other Side of Silence is now going right up there with it. Along with…well, just about all of them let’s be honest. It really is an idiotic idea to try and rank them, to try and say one is better than the other. Better wordsmiths than me have had a better go at it than I ever could.
The plot isn’t quite as polished and slick as Field Grey, but that’s no bad thing as it gives Philip Kerr some room to investigate Bernie’s character and show us something of what makes Bernie tick, under the wisecracks and the slick, witty remarks. Here, what seems to make Bernie tick, is his rememberances of Königsberg back in 1944 – 1945 in what was in those days still East Prussia. As my interest in that particular area, that is now mostly Poland and a bit of Russia and maybe some other eastern European states has been well and truly piqued over the last few years or so, this hit home. Part of the plot revolves around a plot to remove the legendary Tsar of Russia’s Amber Room, back to Germany. But that isn’t even the biggest part of the plot of this wonderful book. That revolves around blackmain, Germans blackmailing, Somerset Maugham being blackmailed, Russsian spies, the Cambridge four (or ws it five or six? Or more?), and wether or not the head of the British Secret Service was or wasn’t a Russian spy for several decades. How does he do it? And all inside 340 pages – absolutely brilliantly, is the only answer.
By now, after so many years and so many incredibly good books, it is, I sometimes feel, a surprise to have to realise that Bernie isn’t actually a real person! That he wasn’t alive in the middle of the 20th Century. Strange feeling that. But a very good one.
Check out the Speesh Reads Pinterest page for The Other Side of Silence where I’ve gathered some pictures of the people and places from the book.