Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem

Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem
Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem by Philip Kerr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If the three novels contained in Berlin Noir just happened to be the first hardboiled crime stories that I had ever read, I might have given this book four stars. I might have even given it five stars if I happened to be in a particularly good mood. I found the novels to be engaging, gripping and all those related literary buzzwords. However, I have already read my share of noir detective stories. I have read Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and Philip Kerr is not Hammett or Chandler.

I would actually say that Kerr does a good job of mimicking the two masters of genre. Kerr just might be the literary equivalent to a cover band in music. Of his previous novels, I have read the Grid, Esau, and the Shot. Based on those books, I found Kerr to be England's answer to Michael Crichton or perhaps Dean Koontz. He has proven that he cover both thrillers and hardboiled crime.

The characters in the works of Hammett and Chandler are closely tied to their environments in both place and time. Chandler's Philip Marlowe inhabits the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles in the intoxicating (or intoxicated?) times of the 30s. Hammett's characters (the Continental Op, Nick and Nora, and of course, Sam Spade in all his Humphrey Bogart-ness.) also shared the 30s, but were located more north, in the thick fog of San Francisco. Kerr's efforts with the novels contained in this book might be the manifestation of a thought experiment or perhaps an answer to some hypothetical question. Instead of the noble private investigator toiling away in California, what if the setting was Nazi-era Germany and then Allied-occupied Germany? The answer is found in the character of Bernard Gunther.

To be fair, I think Kerr is completely honest with his homage to the grandmasters. In a German Requiem, he drops a reference to the Thin Man, and there are other such references and commonalities peppered throughout the books. However, he also seems to be trying a bit too hard to outdo his predecessors. He sometimes goes overboard with his Chandler-like descriptions, and I think some of Herr Gunther's deadpan observations and sarcastic responses are too Marlowe-esque for even Philip Marlowe.

I did thoroughly enjoy all three of the novels, and I think Kerr does a respectable job with his endeavor to replicate and revive the hardboiled detective genre.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not a Mystery

Yesterday, I had dinner at the new location of the Flying Burrito which happens to be near my place. The restaurant recently moved from its original location in Chapel Hill into the empty location that was vacated last year by Lynnwood Grill. There is some hope around the neighborhood that this new place will recapture the atmosphere of the old Lynnwood Grill before it moved across the street into its fancy new digs.

This was actually my second trip to the Flying Burrito. My first was on a Saturday for lunch, and I enjoyed their flagship entree, the Flying Burrito. My second visit started at the bar. I asked the bartender about their specials, and she informed me that they had mystery beers for a dollar. Those of you that are familiar with my Twitter posts know that I enjoy mystery beers. There is usually a big drum filled with ice and random bottles of beer. My understanding is that the mystery beers are bottles which the distributor is looking to get rid of. They could be from a broken case or seasonal brews that are out of season, a Christmas ale or a winter warmer in the heat of summer for instance. In this case, the one-dollar mystery beer was a Budweiser. As I posted on Twitter, I had the least mysterious mystery beer in history. It might just be me, but a Bud just does not live up to my expectation of a mystery beer.

For food during this occasion, I ordered their shrimp burrito which came smothered in buffalo sauce. The buffalo sauce was also not mysterious since it seemed to be Texas Pete. Discounting the tortilla, rice and black beans, I essentially had grilled shrimp covered in Texas Pete along with a bottle of Bud to wash it down. The whole experience seemed to be more Southern than Southwestern.

My two trips to the Flying Burrito had one thing in common, and that was very good service which bordered on annoying. Unfortunately, this good service seemed to be primarily due to the lack of customers in the place. Granted, I visited on a Saturday afternoon past the primary time for lunch and on a Monday evening. Hopefully, that is not a sign of things to come for this place. Soon, I hope to try the place some weekend evening. Perhaps, it does have the spark of the old Lynnwood.