Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review of Metropolis by Philip Kerr (2019, Quercus)

Berlin, 1928. Germany is still trying to recover from the bloodshed and crippling penalties of the First World War, the Weimar Republic is at its decadent height, the Nazis are starting to gain political influence and power, and anti-Semitism is on the rise. Bernie Gunther has been promoted from vice to the Kripo murder squad. His first task is to review the Silesian Station killings in which four prostitutes are murdered and scalped in quick succession. He’s barely acquainted himself with the case when a fifth murder takes place, the victim the daughter of one the city's criminal king-pins who wants to administer his own justice. Then a second set of murders start targeting crippled war veterans who beg on the city streets. Bernie has a theory that the two sets of murders are linked, but his two bosses are unconvinced. He's never one to shy away from a hunch, however, and is determined to solve the cases even if that means taking a path that deviates from the straight and narrow.

Metropolis is the 14th and final book in the Bernie Gunther series, and the last by Philip Kerr who died of cancer last year. I’ve been caught between wanting to jump in and not wanting the series to end, having read the initial trilogy twenty years or so ago, but last week took the plunge. This outing takes the reader back to Bernie’s first case as a member of the murder squad in 1928 and his attempt to solve two sets of murders, one targeting prostitutes and the other crippled war veterans. Bernie’s first wife is already dead, he’s living in a boarding house, and his somewhat wonky moral compass and cynicism are already in place, though his perspective shifts somewhat in the book from a fatalism to looking out for oneself to get by. It’s a view he adopts over the next thirty years as he tries to survive a murderous regime and its aftermath. Unlike some of the other books that span years, this outing is a relatively straightforward, self-contained police procedural. As usual, Kerr drops in a number of well-known historical figures in the police and movies, and peppers the story with historical facts and a good sense of place and time. And Bernie stoically tracks down clues and takes his own path to get to the truth. A fitting end to an excellent series, with a charismatic, anti-hero lead character who lived a life full of twists and turns that rarely went well, despite him trying roughly to do the right thing. I’ll no doubt revisit the early books in the coming years.

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