three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Philip Kerr
user_rating: 
0

missing imagePhilip Kerr is best known for his historical thrillers featuring German P.I. Bernie Gunther. An award-winning crime novelist, Kerr also writes children's fiction under the name P. B. Kerr.

The Story: In this seventh entry in the series, set in 1954, Bernie Gunther is approaching 60 and living in Havana under an assumed name. A chance encounter with the U.S. military results in his apprehension and transfer to Guantánamo Bay. The Americans, whom Bernie despises, are interested in Gunther's relationship with Erich Mielke, the mysterious figure behind Germany's Stasi, or secret police. As Bernie is interrogated, he is forced to revisit his long, complicated history with Mielke, as well as his years as a German soldier in World War II.
Putnam Adult. 448 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780399157417

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he darkest and most disturbing of Philip Kerr's novels featuring Bernie Gunther. ... Bernie's cynical, completely twisted idea of payback is brilliantly in character." Marilyn Stasio

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike the previous six novels, Field Gray is not about mundane crimes that Bernie investigates, but about monstrous crimes committed by the state and how and why even decent individuals, including Bernie, are forced to collude in them. ... Mr. Kerr is a master at incorporating the reality of the past into his fiction of it, the facts as well as the spirit of the age." Roger K. Miller

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The first impulse is to think Kerr is just using up all that terrific research he couldn't find a place for in earlier books, but the compulsive storytelling soon pulls you in, playing on old emotions (American anti-German revulsion, French anti-Semitic hypocrisy, Russian anti-everyone brutality) even as impressive plot twists start to sneak under the radar." P. G. Koch

Telegraph (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"This seventh Bernie Gunther adventure loses some of that sense of atmosphere by ranging from wartime Ukraine to Fifties Guantánamo Bay, but the wisecracks are as good and the moral conundrums as compelling as ever." Jake Kerridge

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The great strength of the novel is Kerr's overpowering portrait of the war's horrors. Its perhaps inevitable weakness is that we sometimes lose our way amid the avalanche of carnage, suffering and duplicity." Patrick Anderson

Critical Summary

Unlike a straightforward mystery, Field Gray offers a panoramic look at the events, mostly horrible, that shaped Bernie Gunther's life. Critics found the novel smart and ambitious, though not without flaws. A recurring complaint stemmed from the book's structure, which hopscotches through time and space, resulting in a story that is far less evocative than earlier titles. Most reviewers agreed, however, that the various story threads came together in a compelling, satisfying way. And no one could deny that "Gunther, a tough, unbreakable romantic/cynic, remains a formidable creation" (Houston Chronicle).

First in the Series

March Violets (1989): Gunther is a private eye in Berlin, 1936. He's on the trail of stolen diamonds and a murderer, which takes him through Nazi Germany--from the Olympic Stadium to Dachau.