Bernie Gunther's back - and for Berlin Noir fans that's good
news! The most recent installments of the series have been a tad hit or miss
and I'm pleased to announce that Prussian Blue hits the bullseye.
Following the usual routine, the novel is split in two,
telling us tales set in 1939 - on the eve of World War Two and 1956 - as Bernie
is hiding out in France. This is not a structure I care for particularly but the
Gunther series is the exception to the rule and makes it work by having Gunther
revisit the '39 territory in the '56 tale and the weight those heavy years have
played on him are shown to good effect.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What's the darn book
It begins in 1956. The summer season is drawing to a close
andFrench Riviera is
about to end. He quickly falls afoul of Erich Mielke, now working in the GDR
government with the Soviets in East Germany. Mielke has a simple task for
Gunther: murder Anne French, the woman who got the better of Gunther in the
last novel - The Other Side of Silence. And he's certainly given a choice:
commit the murder or die a slow, agonizing death. Knowing full well that Mielke
will do away with him whether he completes the mission or not, Gunther must go
on the run with Stasi agents hot on his heels.
Gunther's hotel job on the
During a brief moment of down time while on the run, Gunther
is drawn back to the assignment Reinhard Heydrich forced him to take in 1939
and a trip to Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden. A man has been shot with a
sniper rifle on the balcony and that's just a little too close for Martin
Bormann who is overseeing the preparations for Hitler's return to celebrate his
50th birthday.Thus Gunther is presented
with another simple choice: solve the case in one week or suffer the
consequences. And there's nowhere in Nazi Germany to run this time.
And we're off. With the majority of the novel set in 1939
and the intriguing murder investigation, the flash "forwards" to 1956
are also compelling. The noose tightening around Gunther's neck while on the
run makes for great reading.
The result is a chase tale and police procedural at the same Hitler's
retreat at Berchesgarden and the surrounding area, you'll know it like the back
of your hand by the time you reach the last page. The plotting is also much
leaner. There's no romance for Bernie this time out, which is a good thing.
Sure, women throwing themselves at the hero is a staple of the genre but, being
overplayed as it is, it's tough to bring anything new to the table. Having
Gunther focusing on solving a murder to stay alive and on the run for the same
reason, leaves little room for bedroom antics. The result is a lean, mean,
Nazi-bashing machine. Prussian Blue, though 500+pages, gets the job done quickly and
efficiently and never bogs down. It starts quick and barrels along to a
time. Kerr's writing is always a cut above the norm and his research has rooted
out the telling period detail to place the reader firmly back in those
turbulent years. If you were unfamiliar with
My one knock against the book is
that Gunther, being a policeman of extraordinary experience, should be a little
better at being on the run. He occasionally makes it far too easy for the Stasi
to find him. Perhaps this goes with his cynicism and fatalistic approach to
life and this stage of the game. Or maybe they occur to make the writer's life
easier. Only Kerr can say.
Prussian Blue is a great read! Kerr
has stumbled recently with The Lady From Zagreb in this
reader's opinion but has regained his form with The Other Side of Silence
and this new, kind of sequel. You want action? Prussian Blue's got it.
You want intrigue? Look no further. Kerr has carved out a worthy legacy with
the Bernie Gunther series and Prussian Blue is a significant
entry. It's a fine read. Don't miss it!
It was with great excitement that
I learned that Sam Eastland was taking Inspector Pekkala into Berlin in the end
days of WW2. Eastland had been one of those authors I was always interested in
giving a try but just hadn't got around to. Berlin Red seemed
like a great place to start.
And it the beginning of the novel
that lost me. The long, long, long beginning. The novel is called BERLIN Redand the blurb promised a tense thriller. The Nazis have
perfected an advanced guidance system for the V-2 rockets, the Soviets send
Pekkala to Berlin to get it. Already Eastland has my attention as this set up
is rife with tremendous possibilities. Even throwing in what has become the
tired cliché of someone (in this case, Pekkala) returning to Berlin to save
someone he left behind (in this case, the woman he loves) who, of course, is the
key spy the Nazis are hunting for leaking key information to the Allies. This
tired subplot aside, the premise still held my interest.
So let's get Pekkala to Berlin
and the espionage, cat and mouse games can begin. Right? Wrong! I read the
novel in ebook format and the little counter tracking my progress revealed what
my reading experience had shown me. Our intrepid hero arrives in Berlin after
I'd read 71% of the novel! With a title like BERLIN Red, should
the reader get through almost three-quarters of the book before the protagonist
is even in Berlin?
Not the end of the world - if
that 71% is compelling fiction. It isn't. This is a very
talky novel delving
into the characters via flashbacks and endless conversations. Almost nothing
happens and the style did not keep this reader turning pages. We've got
Pekkala's lady love passing info to the Nazis. Hitler listening to the
broadcasts where her info is transmitted. A switch in the lead man on the Nazi
hunt. The spy's boss and his life with his mistress. And Stalin hell-bent on
ruining Pekkala's life. All of these threads grind the narrative to a halt. If
this was, say, the first 50 pages to set the stage, it would still be pushing
things. I remind you the novel is called BERLIN
Red and there is no
"Red" until three-quarters of the book has crawled passed your sleepy
eyes. And this goes on not for 50 pages but for 275 pages! Where's the autobahn
when you need it? I was beginning to wonder if Pekkala would ever reach Berlin.
Eastland creates mildly
interesting characters. His period details are distributed well and he has done
his research. But Berlin Red is a dull as dishwater read. There are
moments of action but they are very few and far between. This is a talky novel
and not a very good one.
You can put this one at the bottom end of the Berlin Noir canon.
A Review of John-Philip Penny's PANZERFAUST:
The Fall of Nazi Germany
Normally Berlin Noir Reviews
takes a bit of a break in the summer. Our assumption is that folks are out and
about during the sunny weather and less inclined to be pouring over blogs on
screens blinded by sun glare. But that doesn't mean we've forgotten our fellow
Berlin Noir fans.
Case in point: Penny's PANZERFAUST: The Fall of Nazi Germany.
Not noir per se but still a quick readas summer wanes. It is a short story, some 41 pages, and was offered
free for you Kindle at the time of this review.
The tale introduces us to Wolf
Winter, a member of the Hitler Youth brainwashed into Nazism at a very young
age. It is Berlin, the year 1945, days before the end of the war. Young Wolf
has grown adept with the panzerfaust, or armor fist, used to destroy Russian
tanks clanking into the city. He's a dedicated National Socialist weapon but
he's a dying breed - both figuratively and literally as the surviving Volkssturm
have mostly, and realistically, given up hope of any kind of victory and are
resigned to their fate. Not Wolf, however, he's determined to fight until the
As I said, this is a short
story not a novel. It moves very quickly and Penny's characterizations are spot
on and deftly depicted in the brief narrative. As for the writing itself, Penny
shows great promise but is not quite there yet. I see only good things for his
work as he has the skills just not the experience.
PANZERFAUST: The Fall of Nazi Germany is worth your time. If you can get it as part of the free promotion, you won't be disappointed. If not a sample will tell you if the writing is worth paying for. It moves well, it captures the feel of the harrowing period and the situation. The characters come across as three-dimensional - no small feat within the confines of the short narrative. I would love to see more this writer on this subject.