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If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr

If the Dead Rise Not (edition 2010)

by Philip Kerr

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This is the first Philip Kerr book I have read. I am, for some unfathomable reason, interested in the period in Europe and Germany in particular, between the First and Second World wars.

I enjoyed 'If The Dead Rise Not', not least because it felt like it was adding some nuances of colour to a previously black and white dominated memory world. I feel like, that because there wasn't - so much - colour film around in those days, when we now read about those days, during and just before WWII, our imagination is in black and white. What I'm clumsily trying to say, is that now, writers like Philip Kerr are bringing subtle colours into the previously faded, sepia-toned black and white photo memories.

The story centers around a German ex-Police Detective called Bernie Gunther. The book begins in 1934 and if you know your German history, it is only a year or so since the Nazis came to power. If you really know your German history, you will know that the Third Reich removed the Weimar Republic and after the Nazis came to power, Germany became an extremely unpleasant place to be for Jews, Communists and everyone else the Nazis didn't like, which included previous supporters of the Weimar Republic. Like Bernie Gunther. As the book starts, Gunther is working as a private detective of sorts at a big hotel in Berlin. He becomes involved in investigating a couple of murders, which lead him to uncover, or at least suspect, a plot to siphon money from the building of the Olympic Games facilities for 1936. He gets involved with two of the hotel's guests and their paths cross many times, for good and bad and again much later, 20-odd years later, when he has ended up in Cuba, in the years before the revolution there.

As a description of the character of Bernie Gunther, I can't do better than the Daily Telegraph's "In Bernie Gunther, Kerr has created a plum example of that irresistible folk hero, the detective who is the only honorable man in a wicked world"

Interestingly enough, it just so happened that I was reading 'The Coming of the Third Reich' by Richard J. Evans at the same time as reading this. The first part deals with the events leading up to the Nazis coming to power. So I can confirm, as much as I'm sure confirmation was needed, that all facts are present and correct. Philip Kerr uses the situation in Germany, to show how ordinary people reacted to the extraordinary situations they now found themselves in. In some it brings out the good, in others it of course created the perfect place for the free reign of the bad. Whilst some of his characters are, at least in part, Jewish, this isn't a story about the Jewish situation. Probably as this is a subject best covered elsewhere. Obviously the anti-Jewish aspects of the Nazi's regime even in their early days, is touched upon (as it is unavoidable in a story set in Europe in this period), though it isn't the main motivation for his characters' actions. The characters here are by and large reasonably ordinary people, dealing with an extraordinary situation and doing what a lot of people must have done while their masters were playing politics with their lives; just getting on with it.

If there absolutely has to be a 'but' within my enjoyment of this book, and I fear there absolutely has to be, it is the almost constant wisecracking. Both in what Bernie Gunther says and thinks. I sometimes thought it was a little too much. I'm not saying, that there wouldn't have been a lot of black humour at the time, as Germans in general and perhaps especially the Berlin urban sophisticates Philip Kerr writes about, came to terms with what they'd let themselves in for, by either voting for, or not resisting enough (as Kerr writes: "Quite a few of them (Nazis) ... Seemed to have a flair for persuading Germans to go against their own common sense"). On the positive side, I got a sense that his characters joked about life to alleviate their current situation, with perhaps the underlying hope that 'it can't go on like this, it can't last' and I'm sure that was a real feeling. Black humour would be understandable and perhaps necessary to retain your sanity and I'm guessing that because everything else has been so obviously well-researched, he has also researched and found that this amount of wise-cracking, from big-city Germans throughout Berlin, is authentic. However, sometimes it feelt too much. Sometimes it feels more like Philip Kerr has written it in because he, Philip Kerr, liked writing it, more than 'Bernie Gunther' would have either had the character to say it, or have found it necessary, or that its inclusion helps the plot development. It is enjoyable to read and I'm not saying it wouldn't have been the case, or that all Germans did, or do, fit their stereotype as humourless automatons. I found it a little distracting on occasions.

I was also not entirely sure why the story ended to move some 20 years into the future to 1954. Obviously, by mentioning what has happened to the main characters - who somewhat fortuitously have all found themselves on Cuba at exactly the same time - in half dozen lines at a time flashbacks, does save a lot of time (ours' and the author's) and space, but why, wasn't entirely clear to me. Maybe because two of the people involved in the German part of the story are American. Or maybe I missed something.

On the whole positive, with a few negatives. So I'm giving it a rating a little over half way and enough to make me trying others by Philip Kerr.

As a final thought, I wouldn't have thought it a bad idea, to have added a bibliography at the end. I'm sure his research material would make equally interesting reading. For people like me anyway. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
The first two-thirds of If the Dead Rise Not is set in Berlin in 1934. Hitler’s National Socialist Party has been in power for 18 months which made Bernie Gunther’s life as a homicide detective untenable because he is a supporter of the previous regime. So he is now a house detective for an up-market hotel. In that role he becomes embroiled in several investigations including gangster involvement in the bidding for building contracts for the upcoming Olympiad. In the second book last third of the book we jump to Cuba in 1954 where Bernie is playing with model trains and having sex with a selection of prostitutes when some of the people from 1934 reprise their roles bit-players in Bernie’s life in a sequence of events that had, to my ears, less to do with crime fiction and more to do with Bernie proving some more how witty and sarcastic he can be.

If I had read the excellent review at Crime Scraps before embarking on this book I wouldn’t have. Embarked on the book that is. Because 30’s hardboiled detectives in the style of Chandler, Hammett et al is just not my cup of tea. Where that reviewer, Uriah Robinson, sees a sharp first person narrative and clever lines I see a bunch of blokes who exhibit a blasé attitude to violence and a leering, lecherous quality that I find tiresome.

So my first problem is the style of the book which, it turns out, I still don’t like even though it was conceivable that my tastes might have changed in the 20 or so years since I read a hardboiled PI novel.

Then we come to the fact it felt like two separate books rather than a single entity. The audio version of the book is 16 hours long. A little more than the last 6 hours takes place in Cuba after the rather abrupt ending to the first part. A handful of the same characters are present, including the woman he fell in love with and an American gangster who nearly killed him, but I’ve seen separate books in a series have more connection with each other than the two parts of this book. Also, the Cuba portion of the book incorporated even more real characters from history in a way that I find trite. As soon as we jumped to Cuba I was waiting for Ernest Hemingway to make an appearance. Which of course he did. Ho hum.

What I did like about the book was Kerr’s ability to create a sense of time and place. His early period Nazi Germany is oppressive and sinister and there is a tangible quality to the sense that no one comprehending how bad things will get. It really is quite chilling. I found the Cuba portion a little more ‘hokey’ but I admit that’s at least partly because I was, by then, over it. And to be fair, when he wasn’t belting people or describing every woman he encountered in terms of how much he would like to have sex with her Bernie was quite witty and had random moments of moral clarity. I have to say too that Jeff Harding’s narration was a perfect match for the tone and style of the book.

To be abundantly clear I am in the minority in my feelings towards this book and if there was any doubt If the Dead Rise Not won the 2009 CWA Ellis Peters Award for historical fiction. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Kerr has got the hang of this series again, it seems to me. This is a worthy successor to the initial trilogy. While I had a feeling that Kerr had returned only reluctantly to writing Bernie Gunther books, it now seems to me as if he's figured out some fresh fields he can work with this character. ( )
  ehines | Aug 14, 2011 |
I bought the book in Berlin, attrackted by the setting of the plot. It was a good read, surprisingly full of classical references, but the ending was somewhat disappointing (and predictable). ( )
  fmorondo | Sep 5, 2010 |
great read. ( )
  psghook | May 14, 2010 |
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That I have fought with beasts at Ephesus after the manner of men, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not again? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.
for Caradoc King
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Het was zo'n geluid in de verte dat je niet meteen herkent: het kon een smerige, walmende stoomboot op de Spree zijn; of een trage locomotief die wordt gerangeerd onder het grote, glazen dak van het Anhalter-station; of de hete, gretige adem van een enorme draak, alsof een van de stenen dinosaurussen in de dierentuin van Berlijn tot leven was gekomen en nu door de Wilhelmstrasse denderde.
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From Publishers Weekly: Both newcomers and established fans will appreciate Philip Kerr's outstanding sixth Bernie Gunther novel (after A Quiet Flame), as it fills in much of the German PI's backstory. By 1934, as the Nazis tighten their grip on power, Gunther has left the Berlin police force for a job as a hotel detective. His routine inquiry into the theft of a Chinese box from a guest, a German-American from New York, becomes more complex after he learns that the identical objet d'art was reported stolen just the previous day by an official from the Asiatic Museum. The case proves to be connected with German efforts to forestall an American boycott of the 1936 Olympics, and provides ample opportunities for Gunther, whom Sam Spade would have found a kindred spirit, to make difficult moral choices. Once again the author smoothly integrates a noir crime plot with an authentic historical background. Note that the action precedes the events recounted in the series' debut, March Violets (1989).
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Twenty years after being embroiled in the Nazi regime of 1934 Berlin, detective Bernie Gunther pursues a quieter life in Havana but is thwarted by an encounter with a killer from his past who is murdered at the same time a former lover reappears.

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