Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"March Violets" - Philip Kerr

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It must have seemed a good idea. Take a Philip Marlowe type 'wisecracking, hard-drinking, tough private eye' and transpose him to 1936 Nazi Berlin as Bernie Gunther.

This former seasoned, competent, tough ex-cop (forced out by the Nazis due to his socialist sympathies) is now a seasoned, competent, tough private detective with some illustrious clients including Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler.

With a background of Nazi stormtrooper action against communists, trades unionists and jews, Gunther gets to work. His client, Hermann Six, is a leading Ruhr industrialist. His daughter has apparently been killed with her husband, and their fashionable house burned down. A valuable diamond necklace has vanished from the safe and Six wants it back - without the authorities' knowledge. Naturally a web of corruption lies behind these events.

Philip Kerr's writing style is somewhat florid:
"I drove home feeling like a ventriloquist's mouth ulcer. I was sore at the way things had turned out. It's not every day that one of Germany's great film stars takes you to bed and then throws you out on your ear."
Mr Kerr is perfectly competent at churning the words out. Gunther travels around Berlin, interviews people in his sassy, faintly insolent style, gets beaten up, discovers corpses, meets his police contacts, talks to clients and has sex with various curvy women. In all this he remains generally calm, upbeat and without any discernible emotion.

The plot is complicated and involves keeping track of a number of different characters, few of whom stand out, yet in the end the resolution is only mildly interesting. The pacing is uniform throughout, a placid and unengrossing read.

This tedium tempted me to abandon, but I just about kept on to the end, thinking it a wasted opportunity. Someone must like it though, because he went on to write a further eleven Gunther novels.

'March Violets' was the derisive term by which long-time Nazis referred to new party converts.

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