© 2011 Phillip Kerr
Bernie Gunther survived Hitler’s Germany and a Soviet prison camp, so when he’s forcefully detained by the American Navy on the open seas and interrogated, he’s not too much impressed by their attempt at viciousness. Sure, he had the bad luck to be traveling with an attractive lady who happened to be wanted by the American government for assassinating a cop in Cuba and fomenting revolution, but he’s had worse luck. Back in the 1930s, he once saved the life of another cop killer who is now one of the most powerful men behind the Iron Curtain: Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi. Did I mention Gunther is a detective who actually doesn’t like cop-killers? The US Navy would like to know why Gunther was running around the Caribbean with an assassin and a lot of money — and the Central Intelligence Agency is even more curious as to his association with the head of the Stasi. Mockingly thrown into the very prison cell that housed Adolf Hitler, the man who destroyed his country and whom he hated, Gunther is made to tell his own story.
Field Grey is a tangled political thriller set in Germany as Hitler came to power and drove it to ruin, but set also in the Germany of the Cold War: a Germany divided by the victorious allies, now scheming against one another in equal measure. Bernie Gunther is no Nazi, but neither is he a good communist or a reconstructed German: he’s a proud, jaded Berliner, and the story he tells is one calculated to guard his most precious secrets from the treacherously friendly Amis. Field Grey impresses with its pacing; the plot moves forward steadily with a few bends here and there until a hairpin at the end: it doesn’t rely on confusing the reader to thrill. Although Gunther is your standard-issue world-weary cynical detective, he has a wicked sense of humor which he uses to good effect to irk enemies and allies alike. Despite technically being a member of the SS (which absorbed criminal investigations), he’s sympathetic yet realistic: not a Nazi, but not a knight in shining armor, either. Field Grey is one of numerous Gunther novels by Phillips Kerr, which I selected to read first because it ranged through so many years. It will not be the last! Look for this if you’ve an interest in detective mysteries, historical fiction, and Cold War intrigue.
Oh! And there’s romance, naturally. Can’t have a detective story without beautiful women..
- Fatherland, Robert Harris. Likewise a detective novel with a German lead, this work is also one of alternate history, for it’s set in a Europe where Hitler is celebrating his 70th birthday, presiding in triumph over Europe and a broken Russia, hoping to reach detente with the Americans. Unfortunately for him, a murder investigation leads to the facts of the Holocaust being unearthed.
- Garden of Beasts, Jeffery Deaver. Gunther is a proud Berliner, claiming the city as his more readily than anything else, and Beasts is set in 1933 Berlin. An American reporter shows up during the Olympics and realizes that Hitler is up to something other than building highways.