Over the last two years, I've discovered the fiction of Philip Kerr. His Bernie Gunther series was both a suspenseful, intelligent mystery series and an example of finely told, atmospheric historical fiction, set in 20th century Germany.
As the editor of the monthly digital magazine The Big Thrill, I pursued an interview with Kerr. He agreed. But on the eve of the interview, Philip Kerr died. Here is the story I wrote:
"That's the thing about real life; it all looks so implausible right up until the moment when it starts to happen. I have my experiences as a police detective and the events of my own personal history to confirm this observation. There's been nothing probable about my life. But I've a strong feeling that it's the same for everyone. The collection of stories that make us all who we are only looks exaggerated or fictitious until we find ourselves living on its stained and dog-eared pages."
So opens the novel GREEKS BEARING GIFTS, the 13th in the Bernie Gunther series, written by Philip Kerr. Through the publicist for Putnam, his U.S. publisher, Kerr, a London resident, agreed to his first interview with The Big Thrill, a story that was planned for this month's "International Thrills" column. Before the interview could be completed, Kerr died of cancer on Friday, March 23rd.
His long-time editor Marian Wood said, "Working with Philip Kerr was the kind of experience all editors hope to have. In the twenty-plus years we worked together I found him responsive, funny, brilliant, and totally committed to his writing and hence, to being edited as long as he thought the editing was serious. He was an amazing human being and I will always miss him. At the moment, there is a huge hole in my life. I suspect it will stay with me as long as he lives in my memory—which means, as long as I live. He was special. More people might do well to learn that from his work and his ways."
Nearly 30 years ago, Philip Kerr’s novel March Violets introduced the character of Bernie Gunther, a sardonic, hard-drinking detective. What made Gunther a bold choice of character was that in the series he is a detective working in Nazi and post-war Germany. Gunther always loathes the Nazis and is known for his defiant, abrasive nature. But he is also a survivor. When no less a Nazi than Reinhard Heydrich of the SS orders him to serve as "his number one trouble shooter" within the police, he has no choice but to agree. Gunther solves murder cases in the midst of war, whether in Berlin, the city that owns his soul, or on the edges of battlefields, in prisons, at Nazi retreats, or, later, in German communities in Argentina, France, and Cuba. Mysteries in which the crimes of individual murder are solved within a time of horrific war casualties have been written before, as in the excellent Foyle's War series. Bernie Gunther, however, is always in a state of conflict over his feelings for his own country: He loves Germany while feeling shame, bitterness, and a certain incredulity that he has survived as long as he has.