Friday, September 23, 2011

March Violets: Review

I discovered March Violets by Philip Kerr when I was looking for a mystery either set in Germany or written by a German author for the Crime Fiction on a Europass Challenge. One thing I found while researching was that it would seem that the hands-down winner for German crime fiction is the Third Reich era. So many of the of the novels mentioned out on the internet take place in Nazi Germany or involve spy thrillers during the World War II era. March Violets is no different.
Set during the rise of the Nazi party, this is Kerr's debut novel of a series of crime stories set in Germany. According to the blurb: Scottish-born Kerr re-creates the period accurately and with verve; the novel reeks of the sordid decade that saw Hitler's rise to power. Bernhard Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons--mostly Jews. He is summoned wealthy industrialist, Herr Six, to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace. Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler's two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler. The search for clues takes Gunther to morgues overflowing with Nazi victims; raucous nightclubs; the Olympic games where Jesse Owens tramples the theory of Aryan racial superiority; the boudoir of a famous actress; and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Fights with Gestapo agents, shoot-outs with adulterers, run-ins with a variety of criminals, and dead bodies in unexpected places keep readers guessing to the very end.

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of noir fiction or hard-boiled detectives but the synopsis of this book reeled me right in. And, for the most part, I'm glad it did. The period atmosphere is perfect. Almost too perfect, because let's face it Nazi Germany was a very depressing place to be if you have any moral scruples at all. The narrative style is marvelous. Bernie is a tough-guy private eye that I love despite not loving tough-guy private eyes. The twists and turns of the plot are convincing and they pull you in and keep you there. So, what you may ask is the part that makes you not so glad? Two things. One: I am well aware that the hard-boiled school tends to live on ridiculous metaphors. But, seriously, Bernie has more metaphors than a coon hound has fleas. (See? It's rubbed off!) And some of them are down-right horrible. Here are just two examples: "Her breasts were like the rear ends of a couple of dray horses at the end of a long hard day." and
"She gave me a smile that was as thin and dubious as the rubber on a secondhand condom." Two: The penultimate scenes were a bit brutal. Heck, they were a lot brutal. That put me off a bit. Of course, I also realize that situations in Nazi Germany were a great deal more brutal than that. But it did take me by surprise.

I would like to continue reading this series. There are loose ends left at the "wrap-up" of this one that I'm curious to see how Kerr ties them up. I think I'll have to wait a bit for another dose of the mean streets of Germany, though. Three and a half stars.

1 comment:

Yvette said...

I enjoyed your review. I love books set in that era. Don't know about those metaphors, though. Ouch! :)

As an aside:
I recommend Marshall Browne's EYE OF THE ABYSS and THE IRON HEART both set in Germany as the Nazis came to power. Both wonderful.

Browne is an Australian writing about Nazi Germany. It works.