Looking through the other end of the spyglass.
Recently I’ve had an odd fascination with modern history, namely the period between World War I and 1950 (when my dad was born). This fascination had motivated me to watch ‘World War II in HD Colour’, documentaries about the Royal Household, and more recently I’ve finished reading the Trilogy ‘Berlin Noir- Bernie Gunther’, by Phillip Kerr.
I think it’s long enough since the end of the Second World War, that we can now show a passing interest in 1930s-1940s Germany without being labelled as a Nazi sympathiser. And it’s uncommon to find a fictional novel set in pre-WWII Germany, especially where the protagonist is an Aryan German.
Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy starts off with ‘March Violets’ set in 1936 Berlin, where ex-police now Private detective Bernie Gunter is making a living from seeking out information on missing persons- as more and more German Jews are going missing as the Nazi party gains more of a foothold. That is before Bernie is lured into a potentially lucrative case, to locate missing jewels belonging to a wealthy German industrialist- in the process uncovering more than he bargained for.
In book 2 of the series (The Pail Criminal), Bernie has been brought back into the Berlin Police force to solve a string of killings of young Aryan girls. Convinced that he’s the only one who could solve these murders, due to his pass successes with catching a similar serial killer, Bernie uncovers a plot which is way above his pay-grade. Set in the backdrop of 1938 Berlin, in the subsequent years much has changed Germany is on the brink of all-out war, and the open persecution of Jews is rampant.
In the final book in the Berlin Noir trilogy (A German Requiem- 1947-48), the war has already been fought and loss, and Berlin and much of Germany/Austria has been left in ruins. And those who have survived the war, are now left to fend for themselves in a near post-apocalypse landscape where people are reduced to their most primal needs. Meanwhile streetwise Bernie Gunther is still a Private detective and is soon hired to investigate the framing of a former acquaintance, who is awaiting execution in Vienna. Who is good? Who is telling lies? Who can Bernie trust?
I guess the ultimate reason why I found these novels so fascinating, was because I had rarely heard of life in Germany leading up to the war or had spent much time reading up about life in post-war Germany/Austria. It was fascinating to hear of the glamour of pre-war Berlin, and then having that contrasted with the desolation in post-war Berlin, where there were French, and American, British, and Russian controlled sectors. Weird!
And what made Phillip Kerr’s book so engrossing, was his ability to bring to life his characters and settings by describing everything in such detail, transporting me to 1930s-1940s Berlin. And although most detective novels are slow to develop, however Kerr had me tearing through the books, smashing through the 3 books in less than 2 weeks!
If you want to read something a bit different from your ordinary Detective mysteries, check out Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, it’s not for everyone but it still might interest you.