Tuesday, June 09, 2015

What We're Reading Now: Investigating Murder in the Maelstrom of War

Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr (FICTION KERR)
Backstory: Philip Kerr’s series featuring Bernie Gunther gives a wonderful snapshot of Germany in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s through the eyes of a disillusioned detective who has little luck with women. 

Bernie Gunther is a Berliner who fought in the Great War and policed Berlin’s streets until the Nazis took over in 1933. He left the police and became a private detective, still dealing with the seamier side of German life.  He is good at what he does and prominent people command his services. To stay alive in Hitler’s Germany and in later years, Bernie must comply with their requests.  Over the course of the series, he grudgingly works for Nazis Reinhard Heydrich and Joseph Goebbels; after the war he spends time in Austria, Argentina and Cuba fleeing his past, but trouble usually finds him.  The novels don’t follow a chronological sequence, but it isn’t essential to the storylines. 

In the latest installment, “Lady from Zagreb”, it is 1942. Bernie tries to help Croatian actress Dalia Dresner, a woman with a complicated family history; he falls in love with her in the process.    Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Truth and Propaganda, has plans for the actress professionally and otherwise; he blackmails Bernie to deliver her for his next film. A seemingly pointless murder in Berlin, vicious fighting in Yugoslavia, an encounter with American heavies and more murders in Switzerland dog his tracks as he tries to make sense of his life and maintain any integrity:

"Being solitary-that’s an occupational hazard. But I’m not so crazy about being lonely.  I end up doing things I shouldn’t do. Like drinking a little too much.  Stealing other men’s wives. Trying to stay alive at all costs. And looking for just a little happiness in this life. You know, I often think if I hadn’t been a policeman, I might have been a really good man."

Philip Kerr is one of my favorite historical novelists; he also writes a good mystery. I look forward to every one of Bernie’s cases.

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