Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Year in books 2010 - If the Dead Rise Not

There was a time when Philip Ker was being touted as an English Michael Crichton. He wrote high concept thrillers that just screamed out to be made into films. However whereas every year seem to bring a new Crichton adaptation, options for Philip Kerr's books got lost in development hell.

Before all that though he wrote 3 novels featuring ex policeman and now downbeat private eye Bernie Gunther. So far so Chandler, the difference is though that the 3 books were set in pre war Berlin as the Nazi's took power. The strange mix of characters, complex plotting and sparky dialogue straight out of a Humphrey Bogart film with the historical detail of a European pre war setting and crossing paths with the major people of the age got me hooked. I read all 3 books one after the other when they were published in one volume under the title Berlin Noir (it does what it says on the tin) which you can still get here

After dallying with hollywood out of the blue Kerr resurrected Bernie Gunther in 2 books The One From the Other and The Quiet Flame. If anything the plots got more hardboiled and complex as timelines shifted pre and post war and the setting between Germany and South America. However the pattern of a hard boiled private eye solving crime as history unfurled around him stayed in place.

One of the books I read on hols is the 3rd book in this new lease of life, If The Dead Rise Not. The trouble with writing about a book that is basically the sixth in a series is that so much is tied into what has gone before and the main character has become as familiar as a pair of old slippers. This time the action splits between Berlin at the time of the bid for the Olympics and post war Cuba on the cusp of revolution and Kerr captures the tensions of a time when both countries are on the cusp of momentous change perfectly The plot centres around 2 key relationships , the first is one of love as Bernie starts to work for a visiting American Journalist hoping to expose Germany's attitudes to Jews, thus getting the Americans to boycott the games and the other is one of hurt with an American gangster who hopes to make a fortune through the corrupt tendering of contracts for the building of main olympic stadium. However being a Bernie Gunther novel the motivations, morals are not that straight forward and over time shift in shades of grey.

As ever the dialogue is fantastic with one line spat out every other sentence, the minor characters are all well drawn so as not merely to be vehicles to move the plot along. The only slight criticism is there is a sort of twist at the end which you see coming a mile off

They are crime novels for people who don't like crime novels and war period fiction for people who don't like books on the war.

You can buy If The Dead Rise Not here but I would really start with Berlin Noir

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