|NOT a Nazi. Got it.
None of which is currently getting to the bottom of just how I feel about this book. So, some salient fact at this point might serve to help. Firstly, the back story: what bigger crime to provide the backdrop for a series of crime thrillers than the biggest crime of the 20th (and possibly 19th, 18th, 17th...) centuries? You can’t fault Kerr, a man who claims to have watched “every Nazi documentary there's ever been”, for taking what is often a scarily huge elephant in the room and painting him thriller-pink.
|A pink elephant. Reproduced from
without the kind permission of the
BBC or Banksy. Sorry.
Gunther’s story is so closely intertwined with the rise and fall of the Third Reich that, as the title suggests, borrowed as it is from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer*, Gunther is drawn unwillingly into the gears of the death machine and is spit out onto a ferry bound for Argentina with none other than Adolf Eichmann. Not a Nazi** himself (he takes great pains to point out he was never a party member, never carried a card, and only met with the Nazi top brass so he wouldn’t get shot), Gunther makes a living as a PI on the streets of a Berlin in the grip, and in the aftermath, of history’s greatest monster. How’s the writing? Chandler-esque would be close, Hammett-esque similarly accurate, but altogether, judging by the way Kerr himself is portrayed in the obliquely aforementioned Scotsman.com article from February 29th 2008, a lot like Philip Kerr – curmudgeonly, gruff, straight talking and probably in over his head. None of that stops him from unravelling in this case an atrocious medical experiment covered up by a variety of non-Nazi parties.
It’s truly gripping
stuff. Really. I can’t lavish enough praise thereupon, despite the series of
frankly ludicrous coincidences that one is expected to overlook in the mad
thrill of the narrative chase. Kerr excels in this milieu (I can’t honestly say
I can compare his children’s fiction or other writing for that matter) and at a
healthy and stately 55 years of age, let us hope that he is around long enough
to leave behind a legacy of truly superb crime fiction.
* The first
recorded version goes something like this: "Father, give us courage
to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and
the insight to know the one from the other."
** For some interesting information on the origin of the nickname “Nazi”, see The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth, aka the Inkyfool. Free preview at http://blog.inkyfool.com/