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Friday, May 26, 2017

TANGLED UP IN BLUE

A Review of Philip Kerr's PRUSSIAN BLUE

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 about?

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 satisfying conclusion.
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!




Monday, May 22, 2017

20K

BERLIN NOIR REVIEWS - 20,000 VIEWS!

 

I was just about to post a review for Philip Kerr's PRUSSIAN BLUE when the blog hit a milestone - surpassing 20,000 views!

 

I want to thank everyone who has stopped by. I hope you have enjoyed the reviews. There will be more to come.

 

Look for my review of PRUSSIAN BLUE before the end of the week. And, as always, feel free to leave a comment or suggestion. Thanks!


Saturday, November 26, 2016

BERLIN (Bo)RED

A Review of Sam Eastland's Berlin Red

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 Red and 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.

 




Monday, August 22, 2016

PANZER-FAST

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 read  as 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 end.

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.