Bookmarks Issue: 
Philip Kerr

A-If the Dead Rise Not.epsIn 1993, Scottish writer Philip Kerr was selected as one of Granta's Best Young Novelists. Rising to the challenge, Kerr has penned nearly a dozen stand-alone novels on topics ranging from Isaac Newton's eccentricities to Russian gangs to rogue technology to Yeti. If the Dead Rise Not is the sixth installment in Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany and its aftermath.

The Story: "‘Germany awake' was the slogan on everyone's lips," Detective Bernie Gunther thinks as Berlin prepares for the upcoming 1936 Olympics, "only it appeared to me that we were clock-stepping in our sleep toward some terrible but as yet unknown disaster." Gunther, disgusted by the rise of National Socialism, has left a position in Germany's state police for a job as the house detective at the fashionable Hotel Adlon. At odds with his old comrades and falling in love with an American reporter who has come to Berlin to blow the whistle on Nazi policies, Gunther becomes entangled in some unsavory business at the hotel, as well as in the investigation of the death of a Jewish boxer. The novel ends some 20 years later, in Havana, with a cast of characters that includes Meyer Lansky and Ernest Hemingway.
Putnam. 437 pages. $26.95.
ISBN: 9780399156151

Chicago Sun-Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"As a writer of historical thrillers, Kerr is simply a phenomenon at incorporating the reality of the past into his fiction of it. ... There seems to be little of which Kerr is not in command--noirish turns of phrase ... pacing, atmosphere, story and historical facts and events." Roger K. Miller

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Kerr's plausible manipulation of historical facts in telling a story that also includes the murder of a Jewish boxer and several others along the way serves to not only enlighten the reader but also create a series of moral dilemmas for Bernie and Noreen completely consistent with the era. ... Whether this novel is the reader's first taste of Bernie Gunther or another course in the series, If the Dead Rise Not is a richly satisfying mystery, one that evokes the noir sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald while breaking important new ground of its own." Paula L. Woods

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"As characters in detective fiction go, Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther is a one-off, a wisecracking Philip Marlowe type born in Berlin, press-ganged into the SS and left to spend his latter years revisiting ghosts of his past while wandering around Latin America. ... Bernie Gunther is an iconic creation, and each new book a treat to look forward to." Peter Millar

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novels don't lack for sex and often-gruesome violence and Kerr writes in a proudly pulpy style that manages to be at once too much and just right. ... Things get mightily complicated--Kerr is a virtuoso plotter, and his imaginative overdrive can get fatiguing after a while--and, then, whoosh, the novel removes itself to Havana two decades later." Mark Feeney

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book ends with an extended section set 20 years later, in pre-Castro Havana, where Gunther and several of the characters are reunited for a second denouement--one that adds some interesting detail but ultimately weakens the main story; it feels like a separate novella. The greatest strengths of If the Dead Rise Not are Kerr's portrait of a chilly, ominous Berlin--and Bernie Gunther himself, whose way with a cynical one-liner never palls." Kevin Allman

Critical Summary

Favorably compared to the World War II espionage novels of Alan Furst (The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw) and the work of hard-boiled legends Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Philip Kerr reprises the Bernie Gunther saga with true fidelity to his detective's noir roots. The Berlin Noir novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem), a trilogy published nearly 20 years ago, are known in crime circles but woefully neglected by mainstream readers. With If the Dead Rise Not--and despite the unevenness of the book's two parts, which critics felt slightly impaired the novel as a whole--Kerr continues to develop Gunther's character in one of the great historical crime series.

First in the Series

March Violets (1989): We meet Bernhard Gunther in the first book of the Berlin Noir trilogy as the Berlin Olympics of 1936 are coming to town. The ex-detective, now a private investigator, is hired to find some jewelry stolen after a murder--a crime with possible connections to Herman Goering.