So much beauty out there

February 20, 2010

Philip Kerr – The One From The Other

Twenty years ago, Kerr wrote the Berlin Noir trilogy of books, following a private eye called Bernie Gunther, working in Nazi Germany. They were, unsurprisingly, very dark but they were also very good, gripping and atmospheric. He’s now returned to Gunther with three more books, The One From The Other is the first. It’s set in 1949, while Germany undergoes a de-Nazification process. There’s no need to have read any of the previous novels in order to appreciate this one.

Once again, the best aspect of the novel is Kerr’s sense of place, the atmosphere envelopes the story. While Forsyth’s The Odessa File treated the subject as a straight fight between good and evil, Kerr is excellent at drawing out the ambiguities, where everyone is compromised, and the spectrum ranges from pitch black to flinty grey with not much in the way of purity. Virtue brings no reward at all.

The plotting is tight, with enough twists to keep you on your toes, but with sufficient foreshadowing that you don’t suddenly have credibility evaporate with a surprise coming out of nowhere. There are a few gumshoe cliches, this one by far the worst: “I would head to the Hofbrauhaus and spend the evening with a nice brunette. Several brunettes probably – the silent kind with nice creamy heads and not a hard luck story between them, all lined up along a bartop.” Other than that, horrible, exception, the writing is very good, and the book works both as genre fiction and beyond that.


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