Writing today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, I explain that Silence begins with our cynical and despairing, Nazi-hating “hero”—now pushing 60 and working as the concierge at a lavish hotel on the French Riviera—trying to commit suicide. From there, the book takes off in a very different direction, combining elements of the traditional mystery story with the twisting gambits espionage fiction.
Resigned to the tedium of survival, Gunther heads back to the Grand Hôtel and resumes his concierge duties (consisting primarily of “making restaurant reservations, booking taxis and boats, coordinating porter service, shooing away prostitutes—which isn’t as easy as it sounds; these days only American women can afford to look like prostitutes—and giving directions to witless tourists who can’t read a map and don’t speak French”). However, he won’t be able to pick up his life where he left off. That’s due in part to the sudden appearance at Cap Ferrat of a figure from his past: Harold Heinz Hebel, who Gunther once knew better as mass-murdering Gestapo officer Harold Hennig. In addition, one of Gunther’s regular partners for evening games of bridge, a secretive Italian casino manager named Antimo Spinola, has been murdered, and Kerr’s man—sounding like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon—insists “there’s an unwritten rule in bridge that when your partner gets killed you’re supposed to try and find out who did it.”You can enjoy the complete review here.
As if these challenges weren’t enough to keep Gunther’s mind off suicide, there’s also his search for a blackmailer targeting another local resident, W. Somerset Maugham.
FOLLOW-UP: A reader asked me to name my five favorite Bernie Gunther novels (so far). Here they are, in order of their publication:
• March Violets (1989)
• A Quiet Flame (2008)
• If the Dead Rise Not (2009)
• Prague Fatale (2011)
• The Lady from Zagreb (2015)
There’s every possibility that The Other Side of Silence will wind up on my list of top 2016 crime-fiction releases. But I won’t make that decision until much later in the year.