Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels are a high benchmark in noir fiction that blend clandestine historical fact with an epic imagination to render perhaps the darkest of all 20th Century stories – the rise of the Nazis, the horrors of WWII and, in these later, post-War installments, what happened to all those who escaped punishment. Kerr's task in conjuring the past so vividly is helped immeasurably by Gunther, who seems to have been fashioned from equal parts Philip Marlowe and Martin Heidegger (the boozy beggar). Only a hard-bitten, existentialist philosopher detective with a liver as strong as his sense of humour could survive the goings-over Gunther has received in his career thus far – and in 'Prussian Blue', he's receiving a two-way kicking from both his past and present.
Having cleverly set up Korsch as the conduit to these parallel stories, the details of the 1939 case unfurl. At the insistence of his then boss, General Heyditch, Gunther is sent to find a killer – and, more importantly from the scheming Heyditch's point of view, gather incriminating dirt on Hitler's deputy chief of staff, the monstrous Martin Boormann. What Gunther discovers in Bavaria is a web of corruption more labyrinthine than the salt mine tunnels that run beneath the Halls of the Mountain Führer, as all those who hope to benefit from the seismic events about to unfold across the globe make their grabs for riches and power. That the person who helped Gunter with the case is now working for an even better organized bunch of government-sponsored thugs in the latest incarnation of authoritarian Germany is an irony not lost on the fugitive.
“If you live long enough,” Gunter ruminates, “you realise that everything that happens to us is all the same illusion, the same shit, the same celestial joke.”
'Prussian Blue' is an icy warning from history made colder still by the conscious links Kerr makes between those days and our own interesting times.