Book Review: ‘Prussian Blue’ Is A Witty History Book And Murder Mystery

“I want to be friends with Bernie Gunther. This man has a set of morals that defied the time and place in which he was set.”


 

From New York Times bestselling author Philip Kerr, the much-anticipated return of Bernie Gunther, our compromised former Berlin bull, and unwilling SS officer. With his cover blown, he is waiting for the next move in the cat-and-mouse game that, even a decade after Germany’s defeat, continues to shadow his life.

As I have not read the previous eleven books featuring sleuth Bernie Gunther (which I pronounce with a thick German accent in my head), I was surprised to find him to be a quite distinct character in a matter of a couple chapters. Written by Phillip Kerr, ‘Prussian Blue,’ follows Commissar Gunther through two periods of his life: 1939 pre-war and 1956 post-Nazi. Both stories manage to collide in a frenzied climax drawing a successful conclusion of how time seems to circle back to the people and places we have known.

In France, 1956, private detective Bernie Gunther thinks he is meeting his ex-wife for dinner for a chance to mend broken fences. What Bernie finds at the restaurant is an old adversary, Mielke calling in a favor. A favor that comes with a death threat if uncompleted. Unwilling to kill a former lover, Bernie runs as far and as fast as he can back to Germany. With cunning wit, he managed to keep his old friend Friedrich Korsch at bay despite Korsch’s proximity to his heels. As Mielke’s main man, Korsch was along to ensure the job was finished or carry out the death threat with no love lost.

Germany 1939, Commissar Gunther is called in to expertly solve a murder in Obersalzberg, the location of Hitler’s mountaintop retreat. The murdered, a bottom rung government official, was killed by a silent bullet to the head on the balcony of Hitler’s home, one week before Hitler’s fiftieth birthday. Determined to keep the murder a secret from the Leader, Martin Bormann, Hitler’s right-hand man, wants the case solved and all threats to his boss contained before the birthday celebration. He calls in Gunther from Berlin, the best homicide detective, to ensure the safety of Germany’s commander.

Bernie has his hands full. Summer on the mountain is cold, and he might just run out of drugs to keep himself and partner Herr Korsch awake while trying to solve the mystery in the company of an entire town of Nazi’s. More tricky are Hitler’s finicky distastes for cigarettes for chain smoker Bernie, and his inability to support the Nazi regime, despite serving as a public servant. A difficult feat while stuck on a mountain where everyone was ready to lick Hitler’s boots. His job became more difficult as everyone becomes a suspect because the deceased has more enemies than a cat has fur. Gunther managed to find an invisible trail leading to the murderer but not in time to keep Bormann from picking a fall guy in an attempt to contain the situation. His time on the mountain also managed to find Bernie a few enemies and death threats as he raced to locate the killer. In a stunning climax, Phillip Kerr managed to weave the two stories together, circling back on a troublesome relationship that continued to haunt Gunther.

The remarkable aspect of ‘Prussian Blue’ is how much I learned about the inner workings of mass-murderer Adolf Hitler. This book is a history lesson cleverly hidden behind a murder mystery. I now know the leader of the Nazi Party was not just a crazy man hellbent on genocide but that he hated English tea, loved all things opulent, and could not stand the smell of cigarette smoke. Thankfully, I have little in common with the man. Almost every name in this novel is a real person who worshipped the ground Hitler walked on, a clear sense provides inline. I think Bernie might have been the only new name to the pre-war Germany background.

Kerr has a remarkable gift for painting a vivid picture. Sadly, he chooses to wield his power by painting lucid death scenes compelling enough to cause a distaste in your mouth. He does portray Germany as beautiful as I remember. The same with his characters. The reason for the 528 pages is each character introduced comes with a backstory down to what brand of beer is in their refrigerator. The only detail to annoy me was using the French word Munich for the German town of München in a book filled almost exclusively with Germans. A minor detail, as most Americans are keen on saying Munich despite how easy it is to pronounce München.

Back to the main character though. I want to be friends with Bernie Gunther. This man has a set of morals that defied the time and place in which he was set. Any man unwilling to yield to the power of the Regime in such an overt fashion is worthy of acclaim. His inclination for sarcasm borders on uncharacteristic for a German but was enjoyable to read. Kerr’s descriptions of women bordered on sexist, which is only acceptable as the timing makes sense. Either way, this book will delight a wide variety of audiences, such as history buffs, murder mystery fans, travel readers, and even biography lovers. The only sour taste from this book comes from Hitler and the mentality of those who followed him, which of course is not Kerr’s fault and even then he managed to express this mentality without sounding cartoonish. The book is smart and engaging in every aspect necessary for a bestselling novel.

Now available in bookstores

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