Review: March Violets by Philip Kerr

Berlin NoirThe verdict is in!

4 out of 5 Stars

The version I have:
Published by Penguin 2012.

Bought with help from RegionMidt.

The cover picture, is the version I have. Other versions are available. I haven’t seen them sold separately, but looking on the man’s website, at cover designs for the individual titles, I never want to. Truly dreadful.

March Violets is the first book of Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy. As they are described in several places I can see as a ’trilogy,’ it would seem to suggest that the first three books – March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem – were either intended to be the only three books about Bernie Gunther, but the series proved a success (I don’t know) and Kerr followed on. Or, that they are interlinked in some way, the stories similar, about the same characters, or a similar theme. As I’ve only read the first of the ‘trilogy’ I can say as yet. I have read one of the later Bernie Gunther thrillers, but that was most definitely not set in 1930’s (or ‘40s) Berlin.

Bernie Gunther, a 38-year-old ex-policeman, has become a Private Investigator and a new case begins with the investigation of the theft of a diamond necklace from the wealthy industrialist Herman Six’s daughter Grete’s house. Just ask Grete, you’d think. Problem is, both she and her husband appear to have been killed in the break in, and the house has been set on fire. Gunther must use all his resources and those of his informants, call in favours, and go in debt for new ones. He runs into those at the top of the Nazi heap – like Hermann Goering – and those trawling the bottom of the pecking order, such as the delightful ‘Red Dieter.’ A tortuous tale of deceit, corruption, anti-corruption, the Olympic Games (never thought you’d see the words ‘corruption’ and ‘the olympic Games ‘in the same sentence, eh?), mistaken identity, grisly murders, extortion, have I missed anything? Oh yeah, and a visit to Dachau concentration camp. And there’s an explanation of the title March Violets – what’s not to like?

Nothing can compare with David Downing for ‘this sort of thing’ for me – books set in (Nazi) Germany just before, during and after the Second World War. The feeling that he has actually invented time-travel and actually HAS been back to the period he writes about. There’s no other explanation for writing that convincingly. However, to be fair, this is the first Bernie Gunther book of the series and only the second one I’ve read, so it’s early days yet, for both Bernie, Philip and me. And there’s actually more meat in the plot than a fair few of the Alan Fursts I’ve read. Gunther is an interesting character. Intuitive, clever and amusing. Perhaps written a bit too amusing on some occasions and he does seem to get away with saying inappropriately funny things to inappropriate people than perhaps would actually have happened. The wisecracks mostly work, never descend to Roger Moore James Bond banal quip-territory and as I know from having read a later novel, do wear off with time.

It all hangs together very well, is very carefully and logically – for the time, of course – plotted and is all in all, a thoroughly good and interesting read. Kerr has clearly gone after a kind of Humphrey Bogart type Sam Spade sort of wise-cracking gumshoe type thing. Set in Nazi Germany. And you know what? I think he may well have done it.

Buy March Violets at The Book Depository

Me, on Goodreads

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