If the Dead Rise Not
A Bernie Gunther Novel
By Philip Kerr
In 1993, Scottish writer Philip Kerr was selected as one of Granta's Best Young Novelists. Rising to the challenge, Kerr has penned nearly a dozen stand-alone novels on topics ranging from Isaac Newton's eccentricities to Russian gangs to rogue technology to Yeti. If the Dead Rise Not is the sixth installment in Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany and its aftermath.
THE STORY: "'Germany awake' was the slogan on everyone's lips," Detective Bernie Gunther thinks as Berlin prepares for the upcoming 1936 Olympics, "only it appeared to me that we were clock-stepping in our sleep toward some terrible but as yet unknown disaster." Gunther, disgusted by the rise of National Socialism, has left a position in Germany's state police for a job as the house detective at the fashionable Hotel Adlon. At odds with his old comrades and falling in love with an American reporter who has come to Berlin to blow the whistle on Nazi policies, Gunther becomes entangled in some unsavory business at the hotel, as well as in the investigation of the death of a Jewish boxer. The novel ends some 20 years later, in Havana, with a cast of characters that includes Meyer Lansky and Ernest Hemingway.
Putnam. 437 pages. $26.95.
Chicago Sun-Times *****
"As a writer of historical thrillers, Kerr is simply a phenomenon at incorporating the reality of the past into his fiction of it. ... There seems to be little of which Kerr is not in command--noirish turns of phrase ... pacing, atmosphere, story and historical facts and events." ROGER K. MILLER
Los Angeles Times ****
"Kerr's plausible manipulation of historical facts in telling a story that also includes the murder of a Jewish boxer and several others along the way serves to not only enlighten the reader but also create a series of moral dilemmas for Bernie and Noreen completely consistent with the era. ... Whether this novel is the reader's first taste of Bernie Gunther or another course in the series, If the Dead Rise Not is a richly satisfying mystery, one that evokes the noir sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald while breaking important new ground of its own." PAULA L. WOODS
Times (UK) ****
"As characters in detective fiction go, Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther is a one-off, a wisecracking Philip Marlowe type born in Berlin, press-ganged into the SS and left to spend his latter years revisiting ghosts of his past while wandering around Latin America. ... Bernie Gunther is an iconic creation, and each new book a treat to look forward to." PETER MILLAR
Boston Globe ****
"The novels don't lack for sex and often-gruesome violence and Kerr writes in a proudly pulpy style that manages to be at once too much and just right. ... Things get mightily complicated--Kerr is a virtuoso plotter, and his imaginative overdrive can get fatiguing after a while--and, then, whoosh, the novel removes itself to Havana two decades later." MARK FEENEY
Washington Post ****
"The book ends with an extended section set 20 years later, in pre-Castro Havana, where Gunther and several of the characters are reunited for a second denouement--one that adds some interesting detail but ultimately weakens the main story; it feels like a separate novella. The greatest strengths of If the Dead Rise Not are Kerr's portrait of a chilly, ominous Berlin--and Bernie Gunther himself, whose way with a cynical one-liner never palls." KEVIN ALLMAN
Favorably compared to the World War II espionage novels of Alan Furst (The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw) and the work of hard-boiled legends Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Philip Kerr reprises the Bernie Gunther saga with true fidelity to his detective's noir roots. The Berlin Noir novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem), a trilogy published nearly 20 years ago, are known in crime circles but woefully neglected by mainstream readers. With If the Dead Rise Not--and despite the unevenness of the book's two parts, which critics felt slightly impaired the novel as a whole--Kerr continues to develop Gunther's character in one of the great historical crime series.
FIRST IN THE SERIES
MARCH VIOLETS (1989): We meet Bernhard Gunther in the first book of the Berlin Noir trilogy as the Berlin Olympics of 1936 are coming to town. The ex-detective, now a private investigator, is hired to find some jewelry stolen after a murder--a crime with possible connections to Herman Goering.
By Denise Mina
Glasgow-based Denise Mina is the author of the Garnethill trilogy (starring Maureen O'Donnell) and the Patricia "Paddy" Meehan series: A Field of Blood (**** Nov/Dec 2005), The Dead Hour (**** Nov/Dec 2006), and Slip of the Knife (**** Selection May/June 2008). Still Midnight is the first in a new series, also set in Glasgow.
THE STORY: When inexperienced gunmen enter a family's home asking for "Bob," they instead, amid the confusion, kidnap an elderly, Ugandan-born Muslim man named Aamir Anwar, shoot his daughter, and ask for a [pounds sterling]2 million ransom as "payback"--"for Afghanistan." Alex Morrow, a smart, but insolent, detective sergeant with the Strathclyde police force, is removed from the case. But Alex--who is still coming to grips with a personal tragedy--outmaneuvers her despised partner, as Aamir, stashed away, reflects on the terror his family experienced in Uganda decades earlier, and the captors consider their own familial relationships and obligations.
Reagan Arthur Books. 352 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316015639
Boston Globe ****
"Only a few days pass over the course of this book, and despite its grim beginnings, the violence is kept to a minimum. ... By switching among the points of view of each of the major players, she reveals the complexities of both the victims' and the criminals' lives, finding an almost common cause in the mix of motives as well as the past and present traumas that drive them all." CLEA SIMON
NY Times Book Review ****
"Mina makes a great deal of the racial prejudices that poison community police work, but her grimly funny plot really turns on the eccentricities of her unpredictable characters. ... The amateur villains of this tragicomic piece are drawn with the same wry compassion and bleak humor." MARILYN STASIO
Times (UK) ****
"Mina's characterisation is superb. Alex Morrow deserves her own trilogy. At least." MARCEL BERLINS
Entertainment Weekly ****
"Still Midnight isn't the Scottish novelist's best book--that would be Field of Blood--but you can feel the intelligence, sweat, and research she poured into it. Mina brings to life not just the great, gloomy new heroine Alex Morrow, who's awkwardly navigating the bickering Glasgow police force, but also a Muslim family, whose patriarch gets kidnapped by men stupid enough to do real damage." JEF GILES
Guardian (UK) ****
"Mina is acutely sensitive to characters' mental states, rendering them with a precision which blurs the line between heroism and villainy. At the same time, her prose is both nimble and muscular." JOHN O'CONELL
Critics called Still Midnight an auspicious debut to Mina's new police procedural series, and its heroine "just as beguiling as O'Donnell and Meehan"--and just as dark, rude, and troubled by gender politics (Times). Although the novel contains the same wry wit and compassion that mark her other books, here Mina casts a sharp eye on her characters' mental states, blurring the lines between the villains and the good guys as she explores their life trajectories. The only criticism was that this focus on inner motives and personal tragedies overwhelms the plot. A minor complaint: critics are anxiously awaiting the next in the series. Also see our discussion of Mina on page 17 of this issue.
The Black Cat
A Richard Jury Mystery
By Martha Grimes
This is Martha Grimes's 22nd mystery novel featuring Richard Jury--after Dust (2007).
THE STORY: A British mystery novel featuring Scotland Yard and several murdered prostitutes? It might sound like a retread of Jack the Ripper, but Martha Grimes strikes a very different tone in The Black Cat. While there is plenty of plot for Grimes's featured detective, the polite Richard Jury, to unravel, the book is just...