Kerr, Philip - 'The One From The Other'
It has been close to twenty years since we first met Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr's private eye, who is cast in the mould of American hard-boiled detectives of the 1930s but brilliantly situated in Berlin in the same decade. The book was MARCH VIOLETS and it was followed in rapid succession by two more, the three ultimately comprising the trilogy BERLIN NOIR, which took Bernie through the war to the German defeat. Now, after an absence of fifteen years, Bernie is back, scarred by the war, by the dubious role he was made to play during the years of the Nazi ascendancy, by his experiences on the Eastern front, his wife's infidelity and descent into madness, in short, by a physical and psychic burden that would seem improbably immense were it not shared in outline if not detail by every German alive and aware during those years.
Recent history has knocked a lot of the shine off Bernie, but he remains a tough little guy with a smart mouth and a highly developed sense of personal integrity bolstered by a strong ironic streak. A failure as a hotel-keeper in the town of Dachau, hardly an attractive tourist attraction, he has returned to his old trade as private detective, now tracing missing Nazis rather than, as before the war, missing Jews. One of his first clients is a Jewish businessman who is interested in achieving amnesty for all but the worst of war criminals - the ironies are not lost on either Bernie or the reader. In post-war Germany, telling 'the one from the other,' is decidedly difficult. After all, Bernie himself was dragooned into the Waffen SS and has the tattoo to prove it. One case leads to another, and as they do, Bernie finds himself involved in a shadowy world where nothing is as it seems to be. The complex, tricky plot depends to a degree on Bernie's being a bit thicker than we altogether credit, but then he has suffered more than a few blows to the head over the last few years. The final revelations have struck some readers as being improbable; alas, they are rooted in incontrovertible, if depressing, fact.
The novel opens with a prologue, and for once, it is an appropriate device. In it, Bernie visits Palestine to arrange the transfer of funds for a Jewish businessman, who has bribed a high official in the security police to arrange the matter. One of his travelling companions is Adolf Eichmann, whose trip to Palestine to investigate the possibility of forcibly resettling German Jews in the area provides a cover for Bernie, who has also been secretly hired by the Gestapo to keep an eye on Eichmann. The high point of the latter's visit to the middle east is his meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin, who issues a fervent appeal to Hitler not merely to deport the Jews but to seek a 'final solution' to the Jewish problem. When Bernie sees Eichmann again, back in Berlin, he has risen in the ranks and is strutting proudly in the direction of Wannsee. This single event, based on fact, bears implications that have yet to work themselves through completely in Bernie's life and, unfortunately, the real world, ours.
Read another review of THE ONE FROM THE OTHER.
Yvonne Klein, Canada