I stumbled on this book and was immediately captivated. The mysterys are more than servicable but what makes the book is the glimpse into a Germany that is seldom seen. The life of day to day Germans during and after the Nazi era. For the first time you see what it was like living under occupation of your own government. Amazing characterizations. This is how they should teach history!! Loved it ... learned a lot ... no higher praise.
on October 6, 1997
I was loaned this trilogy as a vacation read, I started reading in Dubai airport and barely raised my head until I had finished. The first three days of my vacation were wasted in terms of enjoying Spanish culture, but I don't regret it.
The three novels span WW2 from the nasty beginning of anti-semitism, through the hostilities to the final sad ruin of reconstruction Germany. Kerr's wonderfully cynical private eye understands the compromises necessary to survive in all of these Germanys but remains human throughout the horrors. These are highly intelligent detective stories beautifully written with sympathy for ordinary Germans doing what they could to get by, but the insight into wartime Germany is the real treat. Philip Kerr is a great writer and I consider this to be him at his very best.
on June 14, 2004
I devoured this trilogy in just under 10 days, I thought it was fantastic. I really enjoyed how Kerr managed to naturally weave in the historical facts with his fictional characters. I particularly liked the first section "March Violets" the best, it was a real page-turner which I found hard to set down once I started. The second, "The Pale Criminal" was good, but had several parts which dragged a bit and the third "A German Requiem" picked it up a bit with a refreshing change of scenery and a fast-paced plot line. Kerr's writing is phenomenal and witty and the superb and complete way the characters are developed is very unique. The reason I did not give it 5 stars is that in certain places (especially when romantic situations and physical relationships are described) the dialogue and occurences aren't believable and can be laughable in parts....seems out of place with Kerr's otherwise sparkling writing. Also, at the ends of the individual books, there are a few loose ends - I was on the edge of my seat waiting for them to be clarified, but to no avail....sometimes this quality is a plus, attesting to skill of the writer to pull you in, but I felt abandoned by the text, as if I'd been loyal to the construction but was tricked out of the satisfaction of seeing the final product. However, overall I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it extremely favorably, especially to those who have a special interest in this time period of WWII and Nazi Germany. Even if you don't, you won't regret putting in the time to get to know these characters as well as Kerr's writing style. Enjoy!
This is a collection of the first three novels in the Bernhard Gunther series that were written between 1989 and 1991 and were published together in 1993 under the title "Berlin Noir". Detailed in it are the earlier adventures of Bernhard Gunther, a private detective who specialized in missing person cases. The scenes reflect the climate of pre and post-World War 11 Berlin. As for the stories, they highlight some of the horrors that began with the birth of National Socialism and end with the allied occupation and reconstruction.
Book 1 "March Violets", Berlin 1936
When Gunther is retained by wealthy German industrialist Hermann Six to investigate the arson murder of his daughter and son in law and the theft of some priceless jewellery he finds himself in the middle of a major conspiracy involving highly placed Nazis. His investigation plunges him into Berlin's dark side with its noisy cabarets, its easy women and tough men, and eventually to Dachau concentration camp. There he finds himself both on the receiving and giving end of violence, violence the world has yet to learn of. He has become a pawn in a game where corruption and decadent behaviour are practiced at its highest level.
Book 2 "The Pale Criminal", Berlin 1938
This is a time when the situation in Germany is escalating from bad to worse and P.I. Gunther is investigating a case of blackmail on behalf of his client Frau Lange. Part of his investigation has him undercover in a clinic where psychotherapy is practiced but things turn ugly when his partner is murdered and the alleged blackmailer commits suicide. To complicate things even further, Gunther is given an order he can't refuse, he is ordered back to Kripo by the SS general Heydrich to work on a serial murder case in which two SS officers are being fingered by public opinion. This is a highly explosive period in Berlin just prior to Kristallnacht.
Book 3 "A German Requiem", Berlin 1947
This is a time when Germany is divided and Berlin is in a state of devastation, its people are doing their best to find food and shelter and rebuild their lives. Gunther recently released from a Russian prison is asked to investigate the murder of Edward Linden, an American Counterintelligence captain. An old acquaintance of his, Emil Becker has been arrested for the murder and may soon be convicted and put to death. Gunther strongly suspects Becker is being framed and with the clock ticking he must follow his strongest leads. The Russian Colonel Palkovich Poroshin, now in Vienna may have some important pieces to the puzzle but can Gunther really trust him. Deep into the investigation he draws the attention of a group of men who have their own secret agenda. An agenda that subsequently uncovers a nightmare landscape containing more death than he could ever have imagined....
The three novels are very interesting and captivating. What I found most fascinating is the historical setting; it brings us deep into the dark and chaotic period of Nazi-era Germany. Through the protagonist, we feel the hype and frenzy created by Hitler and the subsequent behaviour of the Nazi followers, we also experience the emotional letdown the German people felt post-war. Bernhard Gunther is portrayed as a person with an attitude who walked a fine line to stay alive. He was once an SS officer under the command of Heydrich, Himmler and Goering but transferred to the Russian front in order to distance himself from the path the SS was taking. In his writing Mr. Kerr uses a tone that is brutal and dry, fitting for the subject. "Berlin Noir" is a page turner, a vortex of plots and subplots that are easy to follow although hard to swallow.
I have found this series highly entertaining and addictive.
on September 24, 2003
I am a first-time Kerr reader who appreciated and (mostly) enjoyed this trilogy of Bernie Gunther stories. While at first put off by the fact that the novels are based in the historical period of WWII and pre-Cold War (not my period and I'm not a pro-Nazi), I quickly found myself emersed and mesmerized by Kerr's writing.
The triology format of the book makes this a great buy... But what's also nice about this type of format is that the reader gets to actually see Gunther (and by extension Kerr's own writing) grow and mature into his own as a complex, personal, psychological detective set in a specific historical context that is more-or-less rooted in historical facts. (Kerr ends each novel with a short piece that explains the history and, in one case, ongoing mystery that contemporary researchers and journalists are still striving to solve.)
There is also a fine sense of sharp, wry humor that occasionally makes its way into Kerr's writing. I only wish there were more of this, it would help to balance the very dark, ominuous, and sinister setting that evenly pervades all three novels.
My only complaints: The novels are also filled with their own share of too-graphic violence, the plot line in A German Requiem is incredibly convoluted, and the trilogy ended far too soon for me!
If you're an avid mystery reader and interested in books that are set in specific historical periods and try to embelish/extend well-known mystery genres, definitely pick this book up! I think it's definitely worth your time and money.
on November 2, 2001
I read this trilogy almost three years ago, yet it regularly comes to mind as one of the most enjoyable books I've read. As someone who reads primarily non-fiction or fiction by "great" writers, I ventured to read something different with Berlin Noir. Three years later, I am still searching for a comparable novel in this genre. Kerr's presentation matures throughout these novels. The hackneyed detective that he presents in March Violets, transforms slowly into a fuller, more entertaining character. Bernie Gunther loses his overuse of trite, detective-style similes by the end of the first story. By then, the reader is enveloped in a dark world of mystery and political barbarity. Kerr's portrait of Berlin is enticingly eerie. His characters are cut from typical molds, but are presented with enough freshness to keep the reader very interested. And using the different backdrops of pre-war, war-time, and post-war Germany, Kerr was able to modify the setting but maintain the same dark intensity.
I was sorry to finish this trilogy. It is fantastic escapist literature. I have read a couple of the J. Robert Janes novels, although neither the plots, nor the characters compare favorably to Berlin Noir.
on April 29, 2001
These three novels are very interesting, but they are not great. If you are into detective works, you will like it a lot. However, if you have read Kerr's other books first, as I did, you will see that after these books his style changed a lot. The writing is very intelligent, and the stories are interesting, but it is just a different Kerr than in his other works. Perhaps you will like these better though. I suggest reading all three at once, so that you can get a good picture of the characters.
One thing that is interesting about this work is that they all deal with Nazi influenced things, yet the Holocaust is hardly touched upon. This is neither good nor bad; it is just interesting. The first two take place in the 1930s, and the last one following the war. I thought The Pale Criminal was the best. The stuff the main character, Bernie Gunther, finds is not as grisly as the novel discription says. The stories are interesting, but if you are expecting unusual crimes, think again.
on March 5, 2001
What's really interesting to me is to see Kerr's development over the course of these three novels. The first seems the work of a very young man, eager to impress us with every last piece of research he can dig up (how many German street names can you stand) and in love with his ability to make metaphors. There are dozens on every page, in the mouths of every character, many of them wildly inappropriate. The second book is much better. We get the details of Berlin we need, not every one that Kerr has managed to dig up, and the metaphors have been pared down to a reasonable and more appropriate few. The two books hardly seem written by the same person. The third is a more mature work than either of the first two. Here, the characters begin to come to life and the emotions become real instead of the more superficial, more cardboardy stuff of the earlier books. So I recommend this trilogy, not just because the settings are interesting and informative and the plots entertaining, but also because it allows you to trace a writer's development over a several year period. I haven't read any of Kerr's later work, but I suspect it is better yet.
on February 14, 2001
March Violets (the first of the three books collected in this volume) is set in Berlin of 1936. The title of this wonderful mystery is the slang term used to pejoratively to describe those latecomers to Nazism who managed to rise quickly when the party gained power. The private detective is Bernie Gunther, an ex-cop of some renown who resigned rather than get caught up in the internal political tugs of war being waged by Goerring and the like. The writing is brilliant, nearly every page has a sentence which sparkles and demands to be reread--and Kerr captures the time and place wonderfully by using period phrases and slang and vivid offhand details about daily life. The story is certainly well within the noir genre and what makes it special is the hero's gradual realization that his country is turning into something quite ugly indeed.
The second book, "The Pale Criminal," is set in Berlin of 1938. Bernie Gunther returns to in a another noir thriller involving a serial killer specializing in young German girls. The police are baffled and Gunther is "persuaded" to rejoin temporarily to lead the investigation as some elements of the Nazi party attempt to use the killings to stir up anti-Jewish rioting. Once again, Kerr's research, writing and incorporation of German idioms is brilliant.
The final book in the trilogy is set in 1947, some nine years and one World War after our last encounter with private eye Bernie Gunther. The change is dramatic, as Gunther ekes out a living after surviving the war, including a stint on the Eastern Front. The formerly middle-class Gunther lives as most Berliners do, in hard times and in constant fear of the rapacious "Ivans." In this sad time Gunther must face the passability that his wife is prostituting herself in order to put food on the table, and that his country as a whole is doing much the same. He becomes embroiled in a mystery that takes him to Vienna, a city where Cold War spying is being born. The story gets quite hard to follow, but is certainly worth it--especially if you watch the classic film noir, The Third Man, before reading this book.
on February 10, 2001
(Couldn't say "Pretty Good" about the Nazis.) I liked Kerr's atmospheric description of the 1936 Berlin setting, inhabitants, slang, and notorious characters, even though it is written over 40 years later. The cover photo of a dark and foggy street is redolent of the infamous Nazi policy of Nacht und Neble, what we now call "Disappearance" in today's tiresome totalitarianisms. Ex-"bull" PI Gunther makes a career of finding the missing. He is on the outs with everyone (except a couple of drop-dead gorgeous women), but is inexorably sucked into the sewer of National Socialism as he pursues an ostensible murder and theft in MARCH VIOLETS. For some reason Kerr puts great emphasis on tracking him through precise street addresses and intersections (but doesn't provide a map). I'm a bit put off by Gunther's bouts of hardboiled flippancy--this too-obvious Chandler/Hammett gambit (even Goering is a fan!)--that for me recurrently broke into the spell of the oppressive ambiance of random fear built up in the novel. The plot ramifies aimlessly for a good part, until two revelatory plot reversals shook my carefully nurtured beliefs and pulled the threads together. However, by then the obsessive (and historically accurate) intrigue among the Nazi heavies had me mistrusting anything, even the author! The ending seems coincidental and strangely inconclusive, leaving Gunther's love life particularly hanging, perhaps for the sequel. Or perhaps the ending is just hush-hush (the creepy Gestapo might be watching US, don't you know?).