Why would a critic in 2007 suggest that a potential bookworm return to the early ‘90s for his or her pleasure reading? There are two reasons. The first reason is Philip Kerr’s 2006 The One From the Other. After a publication hiatus of 15 years and a literary one of two, Berlin private investigator Bernard Gunther returned to fresh pages in a hard-boiled tale more tragic, gritty, and aromatic than any Sam Spade tome. At the end of The One From the Other we find Gunther, in 1949, forced to leave his homeland because of some postwar reconstruction chicanery. But that book revealed that Gunther had quite the history in prewar Berlin. Gunter had been a Kriminalinspektor with the Kriminalpolizei (KRIPO), was subsequently forced into the SS (never having joined the National Socialists) when Hitler came to power, at which time he leaves KRIPO to start a private investigation business.
The second reason is writing like this:
- By now I had realized that Hildegard Steininger was about as self-contained as a fountain-pen, and I figured that she probably preferred the kind of man who could think of himself as little more than a blank sheet of writing paper. And yet, almost in spite of her, I continued to find her attractive. For my taste, she was too much concerned with the shade of her gold-spun hair, the length of her fingernails and the state of her teeth, which she was forever brushing. Too vain by half, and too selfish twice over. Given a choice between pleasing herself and pleasing someone else she would have hoped that pleasing herself would have made everyone happy. That she would have thought that one would almost certainly result from the other was for her as simple a reaction as a knee jerking under a patella-hammer.
--from The Pale Criminal
The previous history of Bernard Gunther is detailed in three novels written between 1989 and 1991 comprising Kerr’s “Berlin Trilogy” and collected under the 1993 title Berlin Noir. These three novels were March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991). The scene is pre- and post-World War II Berlin and the surrounding climes. The backdrop is one long yarn of horror beginning with the high-water mark of National Socialism and ending with the bleak allied occupation and reconstruction.