Berlin, 1928. Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou released their blockbuster silent film, Metropolis, the previous year, and the premier performance of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill was in rehearsal. And thriller author Philip Kerr beautifully recreates the temper of the times in the fourteenth novel in his Bernie Gunther series.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Elsewhere in Berlin, the government of the Weimar Republic was unsteady at best, with one prime minister following another every several months. Meanwhile, the Nazis and the Communists were fighting on the city’s streets in ever-larger pitched battles. Murder in the Weimar Republic was becoming commonplace.
At Alexanderplatz, headquarters of the Berlin Police, Nazis were gaining more and more adherents among the rank and file while several key positions were held by Jews. And someone was murdering—and scalping—prostitutes working the streets. Later, another series of murders would surface, this time of disabled war veterans who eked out a meager existence from begging.
In this incendiary setting, young Sergeant Bernhard Gunther is elevated from the vice squad to the elite Murder Commission by the legendary vice president of the Berlin police, Bernhard Weiss.
Metropolis (Bernie Gunther #14) by Philip Kerr (2019) 381 pages ★★★★★
As a member of the Murder Commission, Bernie now works directly with the most senior detective at the Alex, Ernst Gennat. But Gennat is skeptical of Bernie’s ability and thinks his heavy drinking should disqualify him. It’s clear the two will clash, and that the rivalry may end Bernie’s career. In fact, as we’ll see, the conflict between the two men will force Bernhard Weiss to intervene.
Bernie Gunther investigates murder in the Weimar Republic
In Metropolis, the fourteenth and last of the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, the wise-guy detective hasn’t yet fallen prey to the cynicism that will become so evident in later years. “In those days I was still capable of being shocked at human behavior,” he notes, “in spite of having worked in Vice for two years.” And, later, in a conversation with the Dada artist Georg Grosz, Bernie adds, “I haven’t yet given up on beauty. On optimism . . . hope . . . a bit of law and order . . . a little bit of morality. On Holy Germany, for want of a better phrase.” Which prompts laughter from Grosz, who had long since become cynical.
As usual, Kerr has done a brilliant job recreating the mood of the era in which his story is set. And he has smoothly integrated historical figures into the tale. His research is thorough. Of course, the book is also beautifully plotted, and the writing strong. It’s sad that Philip Kerr passed away last year, so there will be no more Bernie Gunther novels.
For related reading
I’ve read and reviewed all fourteen books in this series. You’ll find them listed in chronological order, with links to my reviews, at Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels.
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