Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts – Philip Kerr

Greeks Bearing Gifts Philip KerrBernie Gunther 13

My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction World War II, Britain
Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House
First published: 2018

From the cover:

1957, Munich.

Bernie Gunther’s latest move in a string of varied careers sees him working for an insurance company. It makes a kind of sense: both cops and insurance companies have a vested interest in figuring out when people are lying to them, and Bernie has a lifetime of experience to call on. 

Sent to Athens to investigate a claim from a fellow German for a sunken ship, Bernie takes an instant dislike to the claimant. When he discovers that the ship in question once belonged to a Greek Jew deported to Auschwitz, he is convinced the sinking was no accident but an act of vengeance.

And so Bernie is once again drawn inexorably back to the dark history of the Second World War, and the deportation of the Jews of Salonika – now Thessaloniki. As Europe prepares to move on to a more united future with Germany as a partner rather than an enemy, at least one person in Greece is ready neither to forgive nor forget. And, deep down, Bernie thinks they may have a point.

The publication of Greeks Bearing Gifts will be remembered by me, as being when I found out that Philip Kerr had died. I hold back from saying Greeks was/is ‘overshadowed’ because, what Philip Kerr has left us with in Bernie Gunther, can never be overshadowed. By anything. I was also feeling several times while reading the ‘has he saved the best til last?’ feeling. But that would suggest that Philip Kerr knew he was going to die soon (I don’t know if he did or not), or that Bernie was. That the series was drawing to a natural end end maybe. If Philip was still with us, I’d certainly be holding a placard outside his house demanding that he find a way to make Bernie immortal. Or have him sail off into the sunset, a nice German girl under his arm, and the storage room of the boat full of somebody else’s money. We’ll maybe never know. There is another book slated for release after Greeks, I think that’s going to be called Metropolis. I know no details, but it would look as if that too was finished before Philip died. That, of course, will have to be the end of Bernie, as no one could take up PK’s pen and continue the series. I wouldn’t buy them anyway. But whether that has an end to Bernie, in one form or other, is to find out. Maybe Philip had decided the next would be the end of Bernie, whatever. Maybe he had plans to move on.

Greeks is a very ‘Bernie’ story, though a much more positive Bernie, I felt. Yes, he is still coming to terms with World War II and his part in it, but there is a feeling of him allowing himself to shake off some of the undeserved, excess guilt he thinks he, personally, has. In a way, Philip Kerr has used him to symbolise every German’s behaviour in World War II. All right-thinking Germans anyway. Bernie has tried to make his own way through the mess, keeping his nose clean, his head down. Some of his guilt now, is that he should have done more to have stopped what happened. Though of course, he couldn’t. He beats himself up that he had to work for many of the worst Nazi monsters, but I can’t imagine there being a single reader of his story who would accuse him of not doing something, or not using an opportunity to do what little a man in his position could have been expected to do. I often think we understand Bernie sometimes better than Philip Kerr lets him understand himself. Greeks also of course, shows Bernie what life is like after the bad Nazi dream is over. There are positives and ways for him to go. There are also comments on the fact that many within the Nazi apparatus have got away, almost literally, with murder and look set to do very nicely thank you, under the new “Welcome! All is forgiven!” European banner. I get the idea though, that Bernie is tired, reluctant to take up the righteous struggle once again and prepared to let the new Israeli state go at it.

All Bernie Gunther books

Greeks Bearing Gifts is, I thought, the best so far, though I admit I’ve said that a fair few times before! It is – depending on what Metropolis is like – the the most complete Bernie book and, if it has to be, a lovely way to have said goodbye to the him. As I say, there are signs in Greeks, that the end of Bernie’s saga is coming. I’m not saying that his death is lined up, just that his tale’s end is clearly on the horizon. What Philip Kerr had planned for him, will be exciting to find out in the final book.

There is a special Speesh Reads Pinterest Board for Philip Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts, with many pictures and links to/of the real people and companies featured in the book

You can buy Greeks Bearing Gifts from The Book Depository

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