© 2019 Phillp Kerr
At the height of Weimar decadence, young Bernie Gunther is invited to join the Murder Commission. It’s a step up from Vice, and the department needs every watchful eye and quick wit it can get: the city’s prostitutes and disabled veterans are both being methodically hunted and shot. With the usual avenues of investigation producing nothing, Bernie takes to the streets as a legless victim of the Somme, hoping he’ll hear words from a little closer to the ground – and from sources who wouldn’t go near the police. Although this is the last Bernie Gunther novel (his creator having passed just over a year ago), it’s also a prequel of a kind: this Bernie still carries a lot of bruised, youthful naitive with him: he’s not the cool, jaded detective of the forties and fifties, and it’s this case that will make him a little more weary of the world.
As much as I’ve enjoyed Kerr’s Gunther novels, I stopped reading them four years ago on the grounds that they were far too depressing. Gunther’s report from his case in The Lady of Zagreb, for instance, was so gruesome that even Goebbels was unnerved by it. Metropolis, despite its scalpings and cold-blooded murders, is not quite as morbid as the rest – although it’s definitely shaking for young Bernie, whose sub rosa inquiries take him into a bar popular with some of the most depraved souls in Berlin – and that’s saying something, given that Weimar Berlin has become popular for the kind of sex tourism that now favors Thailand. And yet there’s light in the darkness, as Gunther finds a reason for climbing out of the bottle (he drinks like a Raymond Chandler lead at the beginning).
Like most of Kerr’s novels, Metropolis is not a piece to comfort the soul with warm fuzzies. It’s often disturbing, but the dark humor is here, too, and Kerr’s skillful pen makes even the grim go down sweet.