Thursday, May 19, 2011

Berlin Noir (Penguin Crime/Mystery)

Echoes of Doblin and Hammett resonate in this opening trilogy in Kerr’s ongoing Bernie Gunther series. The cartoony image of a wise cracking shamus in Nazi Germany soon fades from your mind as Gunther’s journeys into pre and post war Germany becomes a chamber of horrors. The jaundiced world view and the cynical humor make it palatable while the seriousness of what is at stake is retained. Before the war the Nazis and after the war the United States and the Soviet Union act as deux ex machina in these stories in a satisfying ways, showing the ubiquity of their control of their societies, government as a criminal conspiracy. Most historical mysteries are obnoxiously cute with crime solving Nuns and other such nonsense, but these are novels that use hard boiled tropes but work as well or better as historical novels (a genre that can be over researched and stiff), but act as crime fiction does to examine contemporary society and exhume the underground corridors of power, examine a culture from the high to the low, and generally dig into the grimy cracks of world and bring it to life. Good historical novels aren’t a wax museum on parade but show us an alien world or a foreign country that we recognize in our own time and our society in, and in this these books succeed. Kerr also avoids relying on cheap shtick that curses many neo-noirs, the cheap glamour and romance used to portray this era, and the moral simplification that boils the Nazi era down black and white hats, villain and hero. This is what makes this a fresh take on an over examined era. They are also a lot of fun with plenty of wisecracks and knowing cultural references(Third Man and Casablanca among the allusions), but for those in love with neat, puzzle like mysteries and happy endings need to travel elsewhere as these are grim.

No comments:

Post a Comment