Philip Kerr

Quercus Pbk£7.99

Released: 4th March 2010

Reviewer:L J Hurst


Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung.

 IF THE DEAD RISE NOT is Philip Kerrís sixth Bernie Gunther novel. It is also, Iíd guess, his longest and most stunning. Divided into two unequal parts, it begins in Berlin in 1934 and ends in Cuba twenty years later. There is a heart-stopping gap in-between. Filling out Guntherís life, Kerr has made him a more rounded, complex and much more dubious character than we had ever realised.

Not being a Nazi Gunther has had to leave the police force and is working as the hotel detective in the high class Hotel Adlon. That gives him a number of responsibilities because any classy establishment is going to find itself and its guests targeted by ordinary thieves and hookers, but it is also going to play host to the various oddballs who blow into town as well the celebrities who cannot find accommodation elsewhere. A lot of people, Gunther discovers, are staying to identify if not yet to divide the spoils, because not only is Mr Hitler keen to re-build his capital, but the Berlin Olympics in two years time are going to throw up some big contracts, as well.

The Olympics, everyone knows, bring the chance to show off for the cameras. As Gunther discovers, some foreigners are hoping for the opposite effect: draw attention to the anti-Semitism and oppression of the Nazis. When such a person is an attractive American journalist, Gunther is particularly supportive, more so when she can pay his daily rate. Whether the other Americans in the hotel are similarly inspired it is more difficult to identify Ů why would anyone want to keep a machine gun hidden behind the water works in their hotel room? for instance, and who is the joy lady who rode another guest to heaven? There seems to be no connection.

Connections, though, matter. Gunther still has some connections in the force. Perhaps they can help him to keep the hotelís name out of the newspapers; perhaps someone else can feed him a missing person job. On the other hand, false impressions and leaping to conclusions can create a lot of trouble, such as the officer out in the sticks who finds that a false idea that he has Jewish blood is stopping his transfer to the city. His lot does not seem as bad, though, as the actual Jews who have been cut off and driven out of the city to live in the woods like hobos. Gunther does his best to help the outcasts as he also tries to redeem the joy lady. He has not made all the connections, though. He is going to be cut off.

Nazis and even anti-Nazis re-located to some odd places after 1945. Some of them landed on their feet straight away, some had to keep travelling. Gunther left Argentina at the end of THE QUIET FLAME. He reached Cuba and found a job. He also found himself making connections he thought had been finally severed many years before. Coincidence? Perhaps. Bloody justice? Certainly. Everything tied up? Not likely.

IF THE DEAD RISE NOT shows some nods to the master in its writing: Mrs Charalambides, the American journalist who has left her drunken author husband at home, carries echoes of Eileen Wade from Chandlerís THE LONG GOODBYE, while the machine gun owner ports the shadow of Weepy Moyer from THE LITTLE SISTER in homage. Bernie Gunther, though, has become a much more problematic character than any PI who walked the streets of Bay City. Nevertheless, well worth waiting for must be his next slice of life, though I wonder who will cut it, where it will be cut, and how deeply?






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