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Metropolis

First, a declaration of interest: I’m a fan, which will become evident..

This is the final Bernie Gunther novel, who for those lucky souls unaware, is the central character of thirteen previous books chronicling the fortunes and misfortunes of the German police detective, soldier, war criminal, Ost front POW, private investigator, waiter, concentration camp survivor, hotelier and occasional murderer, set mostly in Germany from the late twenties to the early sixties, by way of France, Cuba, Argentina, Austria, the USA, Poland and Russia (and no doubt a few other places). He is a hard-bitten, soft-centred character with a Chandleresque turn of phrase, brim-full of Marlowe’s one liners alongside Sam Spade’s surly insolence with a streak of ruthlessness a yard wide and of course a dollop of romanticism, who keeps trying to do the right thing, by his own lights. The tales have not been told chronologically, and each is a complete story in itself, so it really doesn’t matter which one you pick up first.

This story starts in 1928, and Bernie has just been promoted from the Vice Squad to the Berlin Criminal Inspectorate, the “Murder Wagon”, where he’s charged with investigating two series of murders. I won’t delve into the details of the plot further, as you should take this journey yourself, and not have its twists, turns and stomach-churning moments of horror diluted by my ham-fisted descriptions Set against the heights of bacchanalia and vice for which Weimar republic was notorious, the plot is littered with fascinating historic detail, beautifully described and coloured, deftly weaving real life characters into the story. The explanation of the political realities and niceties of working in an environment where Nazis and communists fight on the streets (both supported by factions of the government and police), with an ineffective government, constantly teetering on the edge of collapse and organised criminals in league with the cops, is breath-takingly believable. The depiction of the permissive Babylon that Berlin became is seductive and corrupting; I could almost smell the shit and blood dripping off the pages in places.

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The author has crafted this story as tightly and with the same attention to detail as the maker of a Swiss watch; every detail slots into place like part of a fine mechanism, and (to push the metaphor) there’s not a single jump of the second hand, the action flows like it’s on greased ball bearings. The tone of Gunther’s narration starts out as cautiously optimistic, ten years after the war to end all wars, nine after the flu epidemic which killed his wife, and with his country a democracy, unaware of the impending financial crisis, the victory of the Nazis and the war to come. As the story develops, however, the narration becomes darker and more cynical; by the end of the book, it appears the compromises and actions Gunther has made have rubbed the corners off his conscience and soul.

For me this is the finest book Philip Kerr ever wrote, showing as it does the development of Gunther into the cynical survivor that enables him to weather thirteen more stories without diminishing in the slightest. It is without doubt the best example of how to tell a story I have ever read. A well deserved 5/5 Mushrooms.

I have been and remain a passionate fan of Kerr’s anti-hero, and bitterly regret the passing of the author; for me a reading life with no more new Bernie Gunther novels in it will be a sadder and less enjoyable one. I feel nothing but jealousy for those of you have not yet read a Gunther story; to have the whole rich panoply to be experienced for the first time, just waiting for you to turn the page, all I can say is you have riches beyond gold, damn your eyes. If you buy only one book in the next decade make sure it is this one, or you’re a bigger fool than you think possible.

 
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You bad man.

I now have to add something else to my to read pile!
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
I just like the idea of a Weimar-era Polizei Kriminal going "more cynical" watch the place go to utter dumpster fire.
 
I just like the idea of a Weimar-era Polizei Kriminal going "more cynical" watch the place go to utter dumpster fire.

Have you watched Babylon Berlin? I watched it in Germany when I had my neck operation done, excellent series, most expensive one ever made in Germany due to the cost of the Berlin street sets they built.

It should still be available on the ARD Mediathek in the original German, and is now on Netflix dubbed in English.

@Themanwho I'm sold and shall order the first of the series. I like long book runs, and 14 is a fair run.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
I just like the idea of a Weimar-era Polizei Kriminal going "more cynical" watch the place go to utter dumpster fire.
Then Bernie is your man.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
Have you watched Babylon Berlin? I watched it in Germany when I had my neck operation done, excellent series, most expensive one ever made in Germany due to the cost of the Berlin street sets they built.

It should still be available on the ARD Mediathek in the original German, and is now on Netflix dubbed in English.

@Themanwho I'm sold and shall order the first of the series. I like long book runs, and 14 is a fair run.
thank me later. I accept egg banjos.
 
Best series ever. Now try the "Slow Horses" series by Mick Herron; at least he's still alive...
 
Best series ever. Now try the "Slow Horses" series by Mick Herron; at least he's still alive...
Slow Horses is being made into a series by Apple TV with Garry Oldman as Jackson Lamb and Kristin Scott Thomas as Diana Tavener, I await it with some trepidation as I have enjoyed the books immensely and am worried that it will not meet my expectations.
 
@Themanwho, I do feel you have undersold Phillip Kerr and the Bernie Gunther series.

They are outstanding, and as I may have stated elsewhere when recommending the books, I am sure Bernie would have been a member of Arrse given the chance.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
@Themanwho, I do feel you have undersold Phillip Kerr and the Bernie Gunther series.

They are outstanding, and as I may have stated elsewhere when recommending the books, I am sure Bernie would have been a member of Arrse given the chance.
Quite possibly to both points...
 
Ok, I'm hooked by your review. As you're a self-confessed fan, do I need to start with 'March Violets' to make sense of the series, or can I dive in at any point?
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
Ok, I'm hooked by your review. As you're a self-confessed fan, do I need to start with 'March Violets' to make sense of the series, or can I dive in at any point?
Any point, that's one of the beauties of the series. Although I'd say that the first three (available in a single volume) is not a bad place to begin...
 
Any point, that's one of the beauties of the series. Although I'd say that the first three (available in a single volume) is not a bad place to begin...

TVM. I've been looking for something new to get into, as Martin Cruz Smith, Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre have run bit dry recently.
 

kandak01

Swinger
Agree with the above, an excellent series. You can read them in any order, but I think read them in the order they were written.

You can read them as honest narration, but second time around, think of "what if Bernie is an unreliable narrator, deliberately giving only a partial story?"
 

exspy

LE
Should a novice start off with Metropolis or with March Violets? Chronologically speaking.
 
I read all the Bernie Gunther books last year. I really enjoyed them and recommend them.
 

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