Author Philip Kerr died a few months ago. In honor of his passing I wanted to include a review of his latest novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts.
First, I confess I am a biased. I think the Bernie Gunther novel series will at some future time be recognized as one of the significant literary contributions of this era.
What I liked
Bernie Gunther detective prose is compelling reading. If you have never read one, I recommend you start with book one, March Violets. You can decide then if you’d like more. These are genre books and as such they will not appeal to all tastes. They are very sober subjects. The setting is Nazi Germany. That creates a convenient opportunity for some very brutal conflict, murder, mayhem, deceit, the double cross, the triple cross, and a constant reminder of what happens to a society when it sacrifices legitimate moral authority in favor of brute force.
Because of the premise of his books, Kerr was more than able to provide story arcs that placed situational ethics at the forefront. Sheer reading enjoyment is here for you if you appreciate engrossing tales with unpredictable outcomes and fascinating characters.
The hero, Bernie Gunther, is one of the most complex you’ll ever find. This is a man with the fiercest of survival instincts, who never ceases to communicate his antipathy for the Third Reich. Greeks Bearing Gifts finds him enjoying himself more than anytime in his previous travels. Which is logical, when you consider by this time, 1956, the Nazi regime and its aftermath have reached an historical conclusion for the most part.
His biggest conflict seems to be an internal one. Because he has learned to succeed numerous life threatening battles involving duplicitous and unprincipled people at every turn, he finds himself incapable of trusting anyone. You really get to explore what it would be like to try to have a normal life under such circumstances. It is a powerful study of how the environment we evolve in can make an indelible impact on our ability to appreciate life’s wonders.
What I didn’t like
Greeks Bearing Gifts was probably my least favorite Kerr novel. Perhaps because I felt it had more of an educational bent than a provocative noir foundation. However, the plot itself should have gravitas enough for the typical reader. The pillaging of the entire wealth of an ethnic community, a targeted race, and the desperate pursuit to keep the stolen treasures by the vanquished. Add to that the mass escape of untold numbers of Nazi war criminals from the reaches of justice.
However, I was fascinated by the prospect of the next novel. Which is hinted at quite a bit. I understand this final posthumous publishing with take place next year. Because the books have reached such significant depths and spanned over three decades, the final entry has the potential payoff of a genuine master stroke. Bernie Gunther has lived a memorable life, made serious mistakes, suffered consequences few could endure, and grown in ways we ourselves often wish we could.
What you should know
There is much more In the Philip Kerr novels to be appreciated than a well told tale. My apologies for not sharing them. I hope you find out for yourself firsthand.
Recommendation: Must Read