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Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Published by Marian Wood Books/Putnam on April 4, 2017

As is common in Bernie Gunther novels, Prussian Blue tells two stories. One is set in the present (1956), the other in the past (1939).

In the present, Gunther’s old nemesis, Erich Mielke, offers him a chance to return to Germany, all debts paid. He only needs to kill a woman who was featured prominently in The Other Side of Silence. Mielke has in mind a death by poison and wants Gunther to carry out the plan in England. Of course, Gunther fans know that he isn’t a perfect person, and is shaped by the circumstances of an imperfect world, but he isn’t somebody who readily commits murder, particularly one that he’s ordered to commit. And so Gunther begins another odyssey, this one taking him on a treacherous journey back to his beloved Germany.

On the way to his destination, however, Gunther takes a few breaks to remember his earlier life. The 1939 story, and the bulk of the novel, involves a murder investigation. Reinhard Heydrich assigns Gunther to visit Martin Bormann in the Bavarian mountain village where Hitler keeps his vacation home. The victim is a seemingly unimportant civil servant, but Bormann doesn’t want anyone getting away with a murder in Hitler’s residence. Hitler, after all, would be unhappy, perhaps with Bormann. While Bormann praises the “family values” of the rural residents who are loyal to the Nazi party, he wants Gunther to learn which of them is the murderer. The list of suspects is almost unlimited, since villagers are being forced to sell their homes at low prices to Nazi officials while working triple overtime to complete construction on the various building projects that serve only to glorify the Leader.

As series fans know, Gunther is opinionated. He doesn’t like Nazis or the French or the British or Bavarians or almost anyone who isn’t a Berliner. Being opinionated is good because it gives Gunther a personality, but it’s bad when he expresses the same opinions over and over. Lengthening a Bernie Gunther novel with redundant opinions is problematic because Gunther has such a dark cloud over his head that sticking with him for more than 500 pages is enough to trigger the onset of depression in even the most well-adjusted reader.

Nevertheless, Gunther novels are always interesting, and they always maintain a steady pace despite Gunther’s contemplative digressions. Gunther makes it to page 16 of this one before someone beats him up, and that pattern continues as Gunther is repeatedly shot at, wounded, beaten, and generally abused throughout the course of the novel. It’s no wonder he’s unhappy, although his displeasure with life has more to do with the fact that he can’t be an honest police officer with so many wicked people running his country.

Prussian Blue lacks the gut punch of my favorite Bernie Gunther novels, but the 1939 story is a good police procedural that keeps the reader guessing as Gunther uncovers clues to the killer’s identity. The 1956 story sets up another chapter in Gunther’s life, another change, another chance, another novel, and another opportunity to see where Gunther’s dark life takes him.


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