Book review: Berlin Noir

Berlin Noir is a compilation of three novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem) by Philip Kerr’s. This bestselling historical mystery series of detective Bernie Gunther is 800+ pages that twist and turn through pre-war Berlin and conclude with his final mystery two years after the war has ended when Europe is in shambles and America and The Soviet Union are busy carving up Germany. Kerr’s main character, Gunther, is a complex guy who is rough around the edges and by today’s standards misogynistic but a man with a good heart who is doing his best during an incredibly difficult time.

The first story (approximately 250 pages) – March Violets – is about a diamond heist in Nazi Germany that takes place just before the start of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a mysterious woman who steals Gunthers heart. With the eyes of the world on Berlin, the Nazis have to carefully work behind the scenes, committing attrocities including the creation of their “work camps”. The tense ending of the novel might have been my favorite of the three and was an excellent introduction to this hardnosed German detective.

The Pale Criminal (approximately 275 pages) picks up one year prior to WWII, in 1938, and Gunther now shares his office with a partner named Bruno Stahlecker until the Gestapo strongarms him into rejoining the Berlin police force to help catch a serial killer who is targeting teenage Aryan girls. The antisemetic bias of the police force is on full display and causes Gunther to repeatedly clash with colleagues intent on pinning these crimes on a Jew.

The final book, A German Requiem, (approximately 250 pages) picks up nearly a year later in 1947. Berlin is in ashes and the black market is thriving as shellshocked Germans try to make sense of what has happened and rebuild their lives. Desperate for money, Gunther takes on a case that will take him from the ruins of Berlin to Austria where he will infiltrate a secret group of ex-Nazis. Working as a double-agent of sorts, Gunther finds himself answering to both a high ranking Russian Colonel and U.S. Counterintelligence Corps Captain.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for Berlin Noir.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay


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