Fighting at Ephesus

I've never read any of Philip Kerr's novels before, so was delighted to discover If the Dead Rise Not, the sixth book in his Bernie Gunther mystery series. Part set in Berlin in 1934, and part in Cuba shortly before the revolution, this is a classic gumshoe mystery with many a nod to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Inevitably compared to Le Carre, it is nothing like Le Carre (neither are the novels of Alan Furst or David Downing), but what the novels of Kerr, Furst and Downing all have in common are great period atmosphere, taut thrillers, and wonderful settings in wartime and pre-wartime Europe. Not to be like Le Carre is not a put-down, as these three guys are excellent at what they do, and don't need to be compared to anyone else. Besides, when did Le Carre ever write a wartime drama?

In If the dead rise not Gunther, an ex-member of the Berlin homicide squad is working as a hotel detective at the classy Hotel Adlon. Life is reasonably easy (except for tripping over the odd Nazi) until two unrelated bodies turn up, one, Herr Rubusch, a visitor at the hotel, appears to have died a natural death, while the other body, which appears to be that of an as yet unidentified Jew, has seemingly died a very unnatural death. However in Hitler's Berlin, nothing is quite what it seems, and Gunther is soon thrown into the murky world of construction rackets, with not only the Nazis but also some extremely nasty American racketeers looking for a piece of the soon-to-be-Olympic action. What with this and the inevitable beautiful femme fatale it doesn't seem too likely that our hero is going to make it to the end of the novel, but the latter half finds him in Cuba, where ancient history is about to catch up with him....Havana is every bit as well-portrayed as Berlin, although Cuban music lovers (such as myself) have to skate rather rapidly over some passages - Gunther is NOT a fan.

I loved this novel. Brilliant period atmosphere, a hero who's every bit as hard-boiled as Philip Marlowe, and a great line in Chandleresque wisecracks. It's also a great lesson in some little known facts about the period, and about Berlin itself, which is virtually another character in the novel. The move to Cuba is deftly done (and apparently characteristic of this series), and there are tentative pointers towards another Bernie Gunther novel. I can't wait.

The title of this post by the way is related to the title of the novel, it's one of those completely scatty biblical quotes that I just couldn't resist : "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die" I Corinthians 15:32


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