Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2018)

1957, Munich. Bernie Gunther is working as an assistant in a hospital mortuary when an old acquaintance recognizes him and strong-arms him into helping to steal money destined for a politician. Expecting a double-cross, Bernie plays his own version and his reward from the politician is a job as an investigator in an insurance company. For an ex-cop, the job is perfect, with Bernie’s detective instincts enabling him to spot frauds and quickly gain the attention of his bosses. When the company’s usual shipping investigator reports ill, they decide to reward Bernie’s work by sending him to Athens to verify the claim for a sunken ship. The ship has a dirty history, having been taken from a Jew sent to Auschwitz, and was on a trip to search for sunken treasure. Bernie takes an instant dislike to the German owner and is suspicious of the circumstances related to the claim. When the claimant turns up dead, shot through both eyes, a Greek cop likes Bernie for the murder. Holding his passport and threatening jail, the cop strong-arms Bernie into discovering the murderer and tracking down old Nazis who seem to have returned to Greece to collect what they stole from the Jews of Salonika.

Greeks Bearing Gifts is the thirteenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. In this outing it is 1957. Bernie is living in Munich under an assumed identity and is trying to keep a low profile. However, his peace is broken by an old Berlin colleague and very quickly Bernie’s life first starts to unravel, then takes a turn for the better. In his new role as an insurance claims assessor he is sent to Greece to investigate the legitimacy of a claim relating to a sunken ship. There his luck seems to flip-flop: on the one hand he is placed in the frame for murder and is embroiled in a conspiracy that dates back to the Nazi occupation of the country; on the other hand, he meets and falls for a beautiful Greek woman. As usual, Bernie’s task is to stay alive and extricate himself from the mess he now finds himself in. And also as usual, Kerr does a very nice job of creating an intriguing plot that places his anti-hero into the midst of real-life characters and historical events. There is a strong sense of place and time, the characterisation is excellent, there’s nice references to Greek mythology and noir films, and story for the most part is compelling. The only fly in the ointment was the troublesome coincidence that some of the people in Munich are the same as he's dealing with in Greece, creating what felt like an over-extended plot device. Nonetheless, this is Kerr and Gunther in fine form, with Greeks Bearing Gifts being an entertaining and engaging read.

No comments: