Bernie Gunther from Hitler’s Germany to Batista’s Cuba

Hitler's GermanyIf the Dead Rise Not is either the third or the sixth novel in Philip Kerr’s series about the indomitable Berlin detective Bernie Gunther. The ranking depends on whether you take into account the three much earlier books in the Berlin Noir series that introduced the voluble and sarcastic German investigator.


If the Dead Rise Not (Bernie Gunther #6) by Philip Kerr

@@@ (3 out of 5)


From Hitler’s Germany to pre-Castro Cuba

If the Dead Rise Not opens in Berlin in 1934. Bernie Gunther has left the Berlin criminal police, the KRIPO, because he can’t stomach the politics of the force under the Nazis — or, for that matter, of the country as a whole. Adolf Hitler seized control of the government a year earlier, and his violence-prone minions are clamping down on Jews, Gypsies, and dissidents alike. To make ends meet, Bernie is now working as a house detective at the Adlon, the city’s finest luxury hotel. The owners tolerate his outspoken anti-Nazi sentiments and his constant sarcasm. In pursuing an investigation at the behest of Frau Adlon, who owns the hotel with her husband, Bernie becomes involved with a beautiful American newspaper reporter and a ruthless American gangster. As his investigation unfolds, putting Bernie at ever-greater peril, the action suddenly shifts to Havana in 1954. There, under the shadow of Fulgencio Batista’s brutal regime and the growing insurgency led by Fidel Castro, Bernie (predictably) encounters both Americans once again.

The picture Kerr paints of both Berlin and Havana is richly detailed and firmly grounded in historical fact. Though the plot is complex and challenging, the style is less worthy of praise.

A problematic writing style

Five years ago, I reviewed the fourth novel in the series, a book entitled The One from the Other. As I sat down to write this piece, I took a look at that earlier review. This, in part, is what I wrote in commenting on Kerr’s style:

For example, here’s how Bernie describes his meeting with one incidental character: “Frau Klingerhoffer . . . was working on a leg of lamb like a mechanic going after a set of rusty spark plugs with a wrench and a rubber hammer. She didn’t stop eating for a moment. Not even when I bowed and said hello. She probably wouldn’t have stopped if the lamb had let out a bleat and inquired where Mary was.”

Cute, eh? So’s this: “There was something in his face I didn’t like. Mostly it was just his face.”

But this stuff is non-stop in The One from the Other. There are paragraphs in which Kerr uses as many as four similes and metaphors to describe a character or a scene. It gets a little old.

Funny thing: I was going to write this review making precisely the same points. I’d even highlighted several similar passages in If the Dead Rise Not to be quoted in this review! Philip Kerr gets an A for creative imagination but a D for readability. It’s difficult to swallow all this exaggerated language without stopping to sigh with exasperation at every other paragraph.

About the author

Philip Kerr‘s first novel featuring Bernie Gunther, March Violets, was published in 1989, quickly followed by The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem. The One From the Other, the first of nine subsequent Bernie Gunther tales, didn’t appear until 2006. Kerr has also written more than two dozen other books.

For additional reading

For links to reviews of the whole series, go to Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels.

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For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

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