Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Appointment on the Riviera

There aren’t many crime-fictionists (or authors, in general) whose books I grab up as soon as I spot them and immerse myself in immediately, but Philip Kerr is certainly among that select group. As I mentioned in a 2010 post I put together after first interviewing the Scottish novelist, his March Violets (1989), the book that introduced World War II-era Berlin homicide investigator Bernie Gunther, “was one of the earliest historical mysteries I remember reading.” And I’ve gladly followed the Gunther tales ever since—including his brand-new The Other Side of Silence (Marian Wood/Putnam).

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.”

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.
You can enjoy the complete review here.

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.

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