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March Violets by Philip Kerr

The Blurb On The Back:

Bernhard Gunther is 38-years-old, a veteran of the Turkish Front, and an ex-policeman. He’s also a private eye, specialising in missing persons, which means that he’s a very busy man. Because this is Berlin 1936, and people have a nasty habit of disappearing in Hitler’s capital.

A cluster of diamonds sets Bernie off on a new case – diamonds and a couple of bodies. The daughter and son-in-law of Hermann Six, industrialist millionaire and German patriot, have been shot dead in their bed and a priceless necklace stolen from the safe. As Bernie pursues the case through seedy Berlin nightclubs, the building sites for the new autobahns, and even the magnificent Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens is currently disproving all the fashionable racist theories, he’s led inexorably into the cesspit that is Nazi Germany, travelling the murky paths from the police morgue where missing persons usually end up to, finally, Dachau itself.




Berlin, 1936. Bernie Gunther is an ex-policeman turned private detective who’ll take any kind of case except matrimonial because it isn’t worth a betrayed spouse turning their rage on him. As the city gears up to host the Olympics, Hermann Six (a wealthy steel magnate) hires Gunther to recover some stolen property for him – his daughter and her husband were murdered, their house burned down and their safe emptied of a priceless diamond necklace. Six wants the property recovered without any of the fuss that comes from involving the police, so Gunther agrees to pretend that he’s working for an insurance company investigating the arson. His investigations bring him into contact with Berlin’s seedy nightclubs, criminal gangs and the heart of the Nazi regime …

Philip Kerr’s debut novel is a crackling historical noir crime thriller (the first in a trilogy that later became a series) that goes to the heart of Nazi Germany and exposes the cynicism and corruption running throughout it. Gunther is a great character – a hard boiled detective in the Philip Marlowe mould – whose disillusionment with the Nazi regime led him to leave the police before he was pushed but whose smart mouth puts him in dangerous situations. I really enjoyed the depiction of 1936 Berlin – Kerr has clearly done his research and there’s a lot of detail about the geography and architecture that adds to the atmosphere – a section set in Dachau is particularly chilling. I also enjoyed the incorporation of real people from history – especially Goerring who managed to be menacing and sinister but also vaguely ridiculous – and the dynamic between Gunther and his ex-colleagues gives the book an edge but also works to propel the plot forward. It’s a shame that the female characters aren’t so well drawn – I had hopes for Inge Lorenz, a journalist forced out by Nazi policy that wants women to be wives and mothers only – but Kerr abruptly breaks her storyline off without warning and she is largely reduced to being a sex object for Gunther (although I am hoping this will be revisited in the next book). The mystery itself twists and turns neatly and with plenty of pace and while there’s plenty of violence (including sexual violence) it fits into the story rather than being gratuitous. All in all I thought this was an entertaining read and will definitely check out the sequel.

The Verdict:

Philip Kerr’s debut novel is a crackling historical noir crime thriller (the first in a trilogy that later became a series) that goes to the heart of Nazi Germany and exposes the cynicism and corruption running throughout it. Gunther is a great character – a hard boiled detective in the Philip Marlowe mould – whose disillusionment with the Nazi regime led him to leave the police before he was pushed but whose smart mouth puts him in dangerous situations. I really enjoyed the depiction of 1936 Berlin – Kerr has clearly done his research and there’s a lot of detail about the geography and architecture that adds to the atmosphere – a section set in Dachau is particularly chilling. I also enjoyed the incorporation of real people from history – especially Goerring who managed to be menacing and sinister but also vaguely ridiculous – and the dynamic between Gunther and his ex-colleagues gives the book an edge but also works to propel the plot forward. It’s a shame that the female characters aren’t so well drawn – I had hopes for Inge Lorenz, a journalist forced out by Nazi policy that wants women to be wives and mothers only – but Kerr abruptly breaks her storyline off without warning and she is largely reduced to being a sex object for Gunther (although I am hoping this will be revisited in the next book). The mystery itself twists and turns neatly and with plenty of pace and while there’s plenty of violence (including sexual violence) it fits into the story rather than being gratuitous. All in all I thought this was an entertaining read and will definitely check out the sequel.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
Tags: amazon vine programme, crime fiction, historical fiction, philip kerr, series
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