Prussian Blue is the twelfth book of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series. If I am going to be scrupulous though, it’s the twelve-and-a-half book because Gunther is caught up in more than one scary situation, one in 1939 and the other in 1956. It begins in 1956 when some old colleagues, including a former partner Friedrich Korsch, catch up with him in France to pressure him to assassinate an old flame. While fleeing them in 1956, he recalls the case that he worked with his Korsch in 1939. Gunther had requested his support in that investigation, but there are no permanent friends in a dictatorship, fascist or communist.
In 1939, Gunther was sent to Investigate a murder on the terrace of The Berghof, Hitler’s mountain home in the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden. Martin Borman, Hitler’s right-hand man had requested the best investigator and Heydrich sent him. The victim was Dr. Karl Flex, a civil servant who worked for Borman. The problem is, it would be a challenge to find a single person in the region who didn’t want Flex dead.
The investigation is fraught with peril as Flex was part of a group of grifters. He was using state power to force people to sell their homes below market value whether they wanted to sell or not. He was running a brothel and dealing in Pervitin, the crystal meth that fueled the Nazi war machine. He was skimming money in all sorts of ways, likely with Borman’s blessing. So, Gunther’s challenges are multiplying. Heydrich, his boss wants him to get dirt on Borman. Borman wants him to investigate and solve a murder without word getting out about the murder, because no one should be getting ideas about shooting anyone anywhere near the Leader. What would it say about Borman’s management if this new seat of government, this luxury compound for the leadership, was unsafe. Somehow, Gunther must navigate the interlocking web of corruption surrounding Borman and Flex without worrying Borman that he knows too much.
I liked Prussian Blue quite a bit. It is tense, suspenseful, and some of the characters are satisfyingly complex. Gunther, of course, is incredibly complicated, but he is not alone. Kerr is successful in creating the place and time without resorting to pedantry. You understand the political situation through natural conversations, not lectures and explanations.
I was worried after If the Dead Rise Not that taking him past the milieu of World War II Germany would diminish the knife-edge suspense, but it turns out that life can move on and Gunther can have post-war intrigue side by side with war-time recollections of his past. I liked the way the 1956 story intersected in multiple ways with the 1939 story. Not just because Korsch was his assistant then and his pursuer now. There are also geographic connections, each story ending in the same place. Even Prussian Blue is important in both timelines, an antidote in 1956 and a signal in 1939. These connections tie it all together well.
I was introduced to Bernie Gunther in an omnibus edition called Berlin Noir that included the first three books in the series, March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem. I was hooked. Somehow, without noticing, I have missed a few in the series since the last one I remember he was in Havana and that was only the sixth. That’s only good news, more great books to read.
Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther mysteries are satisfying. Gunther tries to be a moral man, but that is not an option. So he tries to be an honest cop–and discovers over time that is not an option, either. In trying to do his job honestly, rejecting Nazism as much as he can while still working for the Kripo, he finds himself implicated in Nazi crimes again and again. Is there a way to live and work in a fascist state with integrity. I think Gunther learns it is not possible if you work for the state.
Prussian Blue will be released on April 4th. I received an e-galley through First to Read
- Prussian Blue at Penguin Random House
- Philip Kerr Author Site
- Of interest to readers: Meet the Author Who Exposed the Hidden History of Nazis on Meth