Philip Kerr

If The Dead Rise Not

""...a fascinating mystery that is historically instructive while also being warmed through with humour and sprinkled with romance. ""


It is Berlin in 1934. The Nazis have been in power for a mere 18 months and already Germany has experienced a number of worrying changes. While the city prepares for the world to arrive at the upcoming Olympic Games, the country's Jewish population is beginning to suffer from the new Germany's policies.

Bernie Gunther has been forced to resign his position as Homicide Detective with the Berlin police and has taken a job with one of the city's finest hotels as a House Detective. Two bodies are discovered; a businessman and a Jewish boxer and this involves Bernie in the lives of two of the hotel's guests. One is a gorgeous journalist focused on persuading America to boycott the Berlin Olympiad; the other is a gangster hiding his Jewish ancestry whilst attempting to use the Olympics to make himself and the Chicago mob rich beyond their wildest dreams.

As the story unfolds, Bernie discovers a vast labour and construction racket taking advantage of the huge sums being thrown about by Hitler's government. He also makes a lifelong enemy and falls in love...neither event being satisfactorily concluded until twenty years later in pre-revolutionary Cuba.

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This book hit the headlines last month when it won the RBA award from Spain, which is one of the world's biggest prizes in thriller fiction and comes with a whopping cheque for 125,000 euros. Philip Kerr is on record saying he doesn't understand why some thriller writers work with petty crime. His thinking is that if you're going to talk about despicable acts why not go for the worst events you can think of and this is what led him to set his books against the backdrop of the Third Reich and mass murder. When writing about such actions, things have to be leavened somewhat and Kerr does this through his main character, Bernie Gunther. Detailed in a wise-cracking, first person narrative, Bernie is one of my favourite recent literary creations. He ticks all of the boxes you may have for your “hero”. He's uncompromising, intelligent and tough and has a line of patter as entertaining as an evening with Billy Connelly. Gunther also has his own strict moral code which he tenaciously adheres to while others around him are corrupted by the actions of their political leaders. What Kerr does with great verve is inject the hard-boiled noir of Sam Spade into 1936 Berlin at the height of one of the most desperately grim periods in human history. Despite the difficulties that this might engender he manages to come up with a fascinating mystery that is historically instructive while also being warmed through with humour and sprinkled with romance. Fantastic stuff.

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