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March Violets (1989)

by Philip Kerr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bernie Gunther (1936⎪1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1575316,473 (3.59)170
Fiction. Mystery. Thriller. Historical Fiction. HTML:Hailed by Salman Rushdie as a "brilliantly innovative thriller-writer," Philip Kerr is the creator of taut, gripping, noir-tinged mysteries set in Nazi-era Berlin that are nothing short of spellbinding. The first book of the Berlin Noir trilogy, MARCH VIOLETS introduces listeners to Bernie Gunther, an ex-policeman who thought he'd seen everything on the streets of 1930s Berlin??until he turned freelance and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi subculture. Hard-hitting, fast-paced, and richly detailed, MARCH VIOLETS is noir listening at its best and blackest.
"Echoes of Raymond Chandler but better on his vivid and well-researched detail than the master"??Evening Standard

From the Compact Disc edition
… (more)
  1. 00
    The Fatherland Files by Volker Kutscher (otori)
    otori: Die Akte Vaterland set in 1932 with the Prussian Coup is a kind of forerunner to March Violets set in 1936.
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» See also 170 mentions

English (42)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
I felt like a genius when I guessed right regarding the big twist: the dead woman wasn't the daughter, but the mistress, and that the daughter was absconding with the necklace and daddy's personal secretary to start a new life in the UK. It was just like in one of Lee Childs's Jack Reacher books, only here she gets raped to death instead of starting a new life.

It was pretty surprising about the concentration camp stuff, but still more surprising that Gunther's assistant just vanishes and he never finds her. Or at least, not in this book - is it possible that she resurfaces in a later installment? Hmm. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
The best description I can come up with is a Pre-WWII noir set in Berlin. This is book 1/3 of the Bernie Gunther series. Gunther is a private detective on a case which involves a midnight meeting with Herman Goring and trying to outwit the Gestapo. I would have probably enjoyed this book more if I had understood some of the "inside" German jokes....and they just aren't as funny as when you have to look them up...such as "more difficult than Goebbels finding a pair of shoes" and something about Goring and milk cows--referring to his second wife's big breasts. This book read the gamut from Tempelhof Airport to Dachau to the 1936 Olympics and Jesse Owens. I'm not really into thrillers or hard boiled mysteries, so this was just an OK read for me. ( )
  Tess_W | Apr 23, 2023 |
Enlivened as much by its good writing as by its twist on the detective genre, Philip Kerr's March Violets is an entertaining novel with a few noteworthy (though forgivable) flaws. This thriller is, essentially, a Raymond Chandler novel plucked from Bay City and placed into pre-war Nazi Germany (around the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics). The Berlin setting is very well done, and the need for our detective protagonist to navigate the barriers of political and social repression under the Nazi regime offers a few exciting and original dynamics to the crime mystery plot ("Half the time I find myself presenting the forensic evidence of a homicide to the very people who committed it" (pg. 56)).

That said, Kerr's Bernie Gunther is pretty much a clone of Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and if not for Kerr's significant capabilities as a writer you could almost dismiss this as fan-fiction (think "Philip Marlowe fights Nazi Germany"). Gunther's wisecracks don't seem as natural in this setting: back-chatting the SS (and, in one scene, Reinhard Heydrich himself) is less believable than Marlowe being a wise-ass to a Bay City traffic cop. Quite simply, a real-life Gunther wouldn't be able to talk this freely. And that's before I even mention that just about every other character also talks in this way, from Gestapo agents ("if I find out you've been giving us any fig-leaf, then I'll have you in a KZ so quick, your fucking ears will whistle" (pg. 99)) to emaciated Jewish concentration-camp prisoners. In March Violets, everyday Berliners have a loose tongue with strangers, and while it makes the dialogue pop, you have to imagine that this would be as far from reality in 1936 as it's possible to be.

Speaking of which, the decision to place a story like this in a setting like Nazi Germany leads both Kerr and the reader into a few embarrassing cul-de-sacs. The protagonist we're rooting for is naturally cynical regarding the Nazi regime in power, but the nature of his job means he's often on the same side as their policemen in this book. Detective novels are all about the restoration of order after a crime has been committed, but that order here is National Socialist order. Gunther might give his Nazi salute reluctantly (pg. 61), and with a disparaging internal monologue, but as a reader we're meant to stick with him regardless.

It's a shame that I can't talk in great depth about the many good qualities of this book, which outweigh the bad, because to do so would to risk spoiling aspects of the plot. The crime, mystery and how it unfolds are all top-drawer, even allowing for the odd cliché (unavoidable, perhaps, in a book like this one) and the fact that it takes a while to ascend to its highest gear. The setting is excellent – oppressive, noirish and lived-in – and the writing is quality throughout. Kerr quickly gains the confidence of the reader that he can see us through, and unless you have the highest of high standards he doesn't disappoint.

The novel is a bit like a Faustian pact: in order to entertain, March Violets had to enliven its Marlowe imitation with a Nazi backdrop, but this very setting compromised it and meant it could only go so far as a piece of entertainment. On the surface, one can enjoy the classic gumshoe tropes – wisecracks are made, dames are bedded – even if they can come across as derivative. But there is always that reckoning, that deal with the devil being called in, in that the Nazi elephant in the room needs to be addressed. So when Kerr does address it all – concentration camps, Gestapo torture, etc. – it can be an unwelcome splash of cold water after the wisecracking ersatz-Marlowe jaunts. Kerr indulges the violence a bit too much – a rotting corpse is described in maggot-writhing detail, men are tortured, and one woman is gang-raped to death – and the reader can be left not knowing what ground they're standing on. Taking continued entertainment from a book that goes down these roads (without even signalling first) can feel a bit wrong.

There are benefits to being unfiltered – and Kerr's writing is like a dose of salts, because readers are so often sanitised against this stuff, even in crime fiction – but its jarring nature in March Violets also leads you to remember why those filters are usually there in the first place. It's hard to be entertained by a story when it confronts you with the reality of torture, anal rape and the Holocaust. I mean, really. It's only if you've got a strong stomach and an armoured soul that you can make the book sit right in your mind, and recognise it as, first and foremost, an engrossing story and a good piece of writing.

In short, the gumshoe, high-class pulp stuff doesn't rest easily with the violent Nazi repression stuff, but nor is their co-habitation sloppy. Kerr's too good a writer to let it slip. Instead, it's like two tectonic plates: brittle and restless, but which together can briefly generate the sensation of an earthquake. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Mar 29, 2023 |
This book gives a chilling portrait of Berlin as the Nazis consolidate their power over the populace. Bernie Gunther is a private investigator whose latest case quickly takes him deep into the ugliness.

This is a fast-moving, quickly shifting action tale, but the author tries so hard to slather on the noir detective story atmosphere that the story itself is hard to follow. There is far too much of pages of names of streets and buildings, impenetrable tough-guy slang, and brutality. Hopefully this lightens up in following books in the series, since the writing was good enough that I'll undoubtedly read more. ( )
  JudyGibson | Jan 26, 2023 |
I'll give it 3 1/2 stars. It was pretty good, although the audiobook version was a little hard for me to follow - partially due to the German names, and partially just a little hard to understand the narrator. The narrator was Jeff Harding. There is a John Lee version, which I wish I'd gotten, as I generally like his narrations.

I liked the humorous dialogs, which were written in the style of older noir crime novels. Kind of like the old TV show McHale's Navy in some ways, just not entirely about the military.

The story was, to me, slightly lacking, but it's the first in the series, so I expect it to get better and plan to read more. I wonder about the authenticity of the facts, as a lot of it sounds too modern to be set in pre-WWII times. But other reviews say it's authentic, so I'll assume it is until I learn differently. ( )
1 vote MartyFried | Oct 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kerr, Philipprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bernardini, PatriziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harding, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merino, IsabelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schütz, Hans J.Übersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suurmeyer, Gerardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Bernie Gunther (1936⎪1)

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Berlin, 1936,

First Man: Have you noticed how the March Violets have managed to completely overtake Party veterans like you and me?,

Second Man: You're right. Perhaps if Hitler had also waited a little before climbing on to the Nazi bandwagon he'd have become Führer quicker too.

          Schwarze Korps, November 1935
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For my mother
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Stranger things happen in the dark dreams of the Great Persuader...
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Fiction. Mystery. Thriller. Historical Fiction. HTML:Hailed by Salman Rushdie as a "brilliantly innovative thriller-writer," Philip Kerr is the creator of taut, gripping, noir-tinged mysteries set in Nazi-era Berlin that are nothing short of spellbinding. The first book of the Berlin Noir trilogy, MARCH VIOLETS introduces listeners to Bernie Gunther, an ex-policeman who thought he'd seen everything on the streets of 1930s Berlin??until he turned freelance and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi subculture. Hard-hitting, fast-paced, and richly detailed, MARCH VIOLETS is noir listening at its best and blackest.
"Echoes of Raymond Chandler but better on his vivid and well-researched detail than the master"??Evening Standard

From the Compact Disc edition

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