From Berlin to Havana

2009-12-09 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

If the Dead Rise Not

Philip Kerr

Quercus

FANS of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther, of whom I am one, will be delighted to have another adventure from the world-weary, wisecracking Berlin detective.

It’s quite complicated to keep track of Bernie’s life: the first two novels were published in the late eighties and set in pre-war Berlin, with Bernie having no truck with the Nazis and getting out of the police force to become a private detective, in very dangerous times. The third novel deals with his adventures in post-war Vienna.

Then, after a long gap, Kerr brought Bernie back, with two ­novels set in Germany in 1949 and Argentina in 1950 where he was living under an alias, like many much nastier people.

In all the books, what Bernie does post-war refers back to Berlin in the thirties, and If the Dead Rise Not is no exception. The Berlin part of the story has our hero as the hotel detective in the Hotel Adlon, and mixed up with a beautiful Jewish-American journalist who is trying to ­uncover corruption in the run-up to the Berlin Olympics in the hopes that the United States will boycott what Hitler wants to have as a showpiece event for his horrible regime. Bernie uncovers plenty of corruption, and some very nasty people, but all he really manages to do is complicate his already complicated life.

The second part of the novel is set in Havana in 1954 where Bernie, still under his alias, is trying to find a way of getting back to Germany. And who should turn up but the same beautiful journalist, and some of the very nasty specimens the two had dealings with before. I don’t want to give too much away, but don’t expect happy endings for our Bernie. Suffice it to say, he is a fundamentally good man who has been forced by the times he lives in to do some bad, and sad, things.

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