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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