The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr

The Blurb On The Back:

It is September 1938. In a sweltering heat wave, the German people anxiously await the outcome of the Munich conference, wondering if the Fuhrer will plunge Europe into another war.

Private investigator Bernhard Gunther, formerly of Kripo – the Berlin criminal police – is hired by a rich widow to find out who is blackmailing her, an investigation in which he finds himself exploring the crankier side of modern German medicine and psychotherapy. Meanwhile, a brutal serial killer stalks the streets of Berlin, and Kripo, embarrassed at having been caught framing an innocent Jew for the murders, is not above using a little blackmail to obtain Gunther’s racially unbiased services to catch the real culprit. Boldly asking for the temporary rank of Kommissar, Gunther finds that a murder hunt for a perverted criminal soon escalates beyond all his predictions. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Berlin, summer of 1938. It’s 2 years after MARCH VIOLETS and Bernie Gunther’s detective agency is doing so well that he’s taken on Bruno Stahlecker (his former colleague in the Kripo) as his partner. When the wealthy Frau Lange, hires Gunther to find out who’s blackmailing her over some incriminating letters that her son sent to his psychotherapist, it seems like a straightforward case that will generate a high fee. But something goes wrong on a stakeout and Stahlecker is murdered.

Gunther’s attempts to find the culprit are thwarted by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich who makes Gunther an offer he cannot refuse: a serial killer is stalking Berlin’s teenage Aryan girls and butchering them and the Kripo have framed a Jew instead of finding the real killer. Gunther’s fame in capturing a notorious strangler during his time in the police means that Heydrich’s willing to reinstate him to the police with a promotion to the rank of Kommissar and full control over the investigation. But Berlin is a tinderbox of tension as Hitler makes moves to take over the Sudetenland and Gunther’s investigation will take him to the heart of the Nazi regime and necessitates navigating the political rivalries …

The second in Philip Kerr’s BERNIE GUNTHER SERIES is another note perfect, twisting historical noir thriller that takes you to the heart of the rivalries permeating the Nazi regime and the lengths that the fervent anti-semites would go to further their own agenda. The historical research really shines through the story with Kerr throwing in details of the neighbourhoods and architecture together with enough slang to add atmosphere and authenticity. I particularly admired the way Kerr draws together the different plot strands in the story (including some links back to MARCH VIOLETS) and Gunther’s own character significantly develops – his guilt at the corruption in the Nazi regime and feeling of helplessness to do anything about it. I wished that the female characters had been as well developed but they’re largely on the periphery and while this is partly because that was what it was like at the time, it’s still a shame that neither Frau Lange or Hildegard Steininger (the mother of one of the victims) had more to do beyond the stereotypical mother/whore roles (particularly Steininger who’s little more than a sex object). That said, I did enjoy the book and I’ll definitely check out the next one in this series.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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