Also published under the title ''Field Grey'"
Book 7 in the Bernie Gunther mystery series
In this story Bernie Gunther reflects on his past, the good the bad and the ugly. Trying to outrun his shadows has resulted in a lonely life; his personal and political associations have left him a man with a trouble conscience. This is one of Mr. Kerr's darkest and most complex novels I have read so far.
In the prologue, set in 1950s Cuba, Bernie is living the good life under an assumed name when his life is chattered once again by a local policeman who questions his true identity. In haste, Bernie attempts to leave Cuba by boat however he is intercepted by an American patrol and is taken to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation by the CIA. The intense questioning forces Bernie to eventually reveal his past, his war time activities under Heydrich as an SS field officer and his pre-war association with Eric Mielke prove to be a gold mine of information for his interrogators. He is eventually flown to Berlin to face the music and is given a simple choice: work for the French intelligence or hang for murder. His task is to meet POW's returning to Germany and finger one particular French war criminal he is familiar with. With this we learn of another period in Bernie's past as a German POW in Russia and how it comes back to haunt him.
This seventh novel is set in Cuba, a Soviet POW camp, Paris and Berlin, it is a fast-paced and quick-action thriller. Bernie is portrayed as a pawn in a deadly game of espionage by various spy agencies of the Cold War era. The chapters are peppered with strategically placed flashbacks from 1931 to 1946, including events that occurred during the actual war years (all the other books took place before or after the war). Mr. Kerr paints a powerful picture of the struggles of the 1930s, the war and divided post-war Berlin.
''Field Gray'' is a brilliantly written novel full of details, a mix of fast-talking, hardboiled crime and historical events delivered in Gunther's ironically humorous monologue. I am a huge fan of Mr. Kerr's ability to stir one's emotions page after page and can only imagine what it must have been like to have lived during such a troubled time.
After the last two rather disappointing efforts featuring the once noir Bernie Gunther, the author rediscovers his pace and intrigue with Field Gray. This is because after Argentina and Cuba, our gray hero returns to Germany, Ukraine and Russia. Newcomers to the series could actually start here as it explains and tidies up a great deal of Bernie's Zelig-like past. Set in 1954, Bernie finds himself tugged and prodded by no fewer than three intelligence agencies interested in his time with the SS and specifically his knowledge of Erich Mielke. Mielke is another infamous real-life figure from history and the story ingeniously weaves in the real murders of Berlin police Captains Anlauf and Lenck. The plot is detailed, interesting and moves at a great clip with flashbacks from 1931 through the war years along with the repatriation of German troops from the Soviet Union years after the war. It has rekindled my interest in the series.
on September 5, 2011
In BERLIN NOIR, the trilogy that begins Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, we are introduced to Bernie Gunther in the pre-war Nazi-era Berlin, and then we see him again shortly after the war ends. Author Philip Kerr let fifteen years and many other books go by before bringing Bernie Gunther back in THE ONE FROM THE OTHER, set in 1949. The next book, A QUIET FLAME, finds Bernie on the run in 1950 and living in Argentina under an assumed name.
These first five novels in the Bernie Gunther saga made me wonder about Bernie in the years before the Nazi assumption of power and what Bernie was doing during the war. In the sixth novel in the series, IF THE DEAD RISE NOT, we learn the answer to the first question. The book begins with Bernie having left Argentina for pre-Castro Havana, but it then flashes back to Berlin in 1934, as the Nazis consolidate their power.
Now, in FIELD GRAY, the seventh novel in the series, we see what Bernie did during the war, during the chaos of the immediate postwar period and in 1954, when he is spirited back to Europe and made a pawn in the deadly espionage games of the various spy agencies engaged in the Cold War.
In recent years, long-secret documents about Russian activities during WW2 and the actions of the East German secret police before the fall of the Berlin Wall have been made available. It is apparent that Philip Kerr has some familiarity with the history revealed by those documents. This book is packed with information about so-called police actions in eastern Europe during the war, the treatment of German POWs by the Russians, the Russians' treatment of their own returning POWs and the machinations of the victorious Allied powers as the joy of defeating the Nazis gave way to the Cold War struggle for advantage in Europe, particularly in Germany.
Bernie Gunther is in the thick of these historic events. He is an intelligence officer and part of a police battalion during the war, a prisoner of the Soviets in several nightmarish camps, imprisoned again in France, and then a reluctant field agent for both the French and US intelligence services.
A thread running through all of Bernie's history in FIELD GRAY is Erich Mielke, a communist Bernie saved from death by a Nazi gang in the 1930s. Mielke is then accused of murdering two Berlin policemen and flees to the Soviet Union. He later crosses paths with Bernie when he is interned in southern France after the Spanish Civil War, again when Bernie is a POW and yet again when Bernie has been put into play by the CIA in 1954.
The book's plot focuses on the years-long chess game between Bernie and Mielke, and Bernie's role as a pawn in the ambitions of one power after another: the Nazis (particularly Reinhard Heydrich), the Soviets and the intelligence services of France, the Soviet Union and the US.
The story is enthralling, though I have to deduct one star for the confusing way the story jumps from one time and place to another, and for some lack of clarity in the description of the double- and triple-crossing of the various players in the spy games. Anyone who has enjoyed the previous Bernie Gunther books and who has an interest in the historical events described should find this a worthwhile read despite these flaws. I'm looking forward to finding out more of Bernie's history.
The "field grey" that author Philip Kerr refers to in the title of his new Bernie Gunther book, is the uniform worn by German soldiers in WW2. According to Wiki, "feldgrau" was worn by the army from 1907 til 1945. The German SS wore black uniforms, but the Wehrmacht wore grey. I'm alluding to the color of uniform because Kerr, in his depiction of Bernie Gunther in all his books (and I believe there are seven), never makes it quite clear as to what "side" Gunther was on. He began as a detective at "The Alex" - the main Berlin police station - in the 1930's but evolves through many incarnations as an aide to Reinhard Heydrich, a soldier on the Russian front, a political prisoner after WW2 by the Russians, etc. This man has more lives than the cat on the can of "Little Friskies"!
During Gunther's service on the Russian Front, he's a member of the SS - forced to join by Heydrich - and he does kill partisans. He never joins the Nazi party, though. Some of the partisans are Jewish, and all have killed German soldiers. So, the killing of the partisans is okay to Gunther. But, no so "okay" are the mass killings of Jews in the Ukraine and Russia that he witnesses. We're getting to the "tricky part" here. At what point does firing a gun at an individual become police work - i.e., the partisans - and at what point does firing a gun become mass murder? The number of victims? The religious identity of the murdered? A point that Kerr never quite clears up in Gunther's story and makes the code of ethics that Gunther adheres to quite elastic.
"Field Grey" - as with most of Kerr's novels - bounces back and forth in both time and place. From Cuba to Haiti to New York to Germany to France to Russia, and back again. And from 1954 to 1945, with some additional back tracking to 1931 and 1940. There's also a fair amount of back-stabbing, betrayal, kidnapping, and just general mayhem, mostly directed at Bernie Gunther. How the man has reached the advanced age of 58 while still alive is a mystery to me.
Kerr is a terrific writer and this is another excellent addition to the Gunther series. It's just a little too confusing, though, to give it five stars.
on June 11, 2013
I am a big fan of this series, which interweaves a fictional detective, Bernie Gunther, with a host of real life dictators/psychopaths. However this novel I found too strung out moving our hero from Cuba to the U.S to Germany. Usually the author has a nice balance between the fictional characters and the real life but this time I think too much time was spent on the nonfiction characters. Felt like I had wandered into a history lesson.
Still an excellent series overall. It would be a good idea to start with an earlier book.