Saturday, 28 September 2019

A detective in Nazi Germany

March Violets (Bernie Gunther, #1) It was the setting of Philip Kerr's March Violets that appealed to me: 1936, Berlin, Germany. Bernhard "Bernie" Gunther narrates the tale, a private investigator who specialises in finding missing persons. He's employed by the industrialist Hermann Six to recover some diamonds that were taken from the safe in his daughter Greta's home. The thieves set fire to the house and Greta and her husband Paul Pfarr die.

Bernie is a wisecracking cynic and something of a lech when it comes to certain types of women. He's witnessed the rise of the Nazis and like many people takes little interest in politics because it doesn't directly affect him. For most of the story, he uses banter and jokes to belittle those in authority and to make light of the growing tyranny being exercised over Germany.

Kerr's writing style was not to my taste and I tired quite quickly of Bernie's facetious descriptions: "He edged towards me like a crab with a bad case of corns," "Fatso pulled the huge brown-and-black moustache that clung to his curling lip like a bat on a crypt wall." However, there is a point in the narrative where Bernie drops his facetiousness and the story becomes quite dark. He realises at last "the true strength of the grip that National Socialism had on Germany." It's this transformation that gives March Violets its punch.