22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
detective novel of the year,
This review is from: The Prague Fatale: A Bernie Gunther Novel (Bernie Gunther Mystery 8) (Hardcover)
I read a lot of detective fiction, and if this doesn't win the Gold Dagger for 2011 then a crime will have been committed.....The sixth and best Bernie Gunther novel, it does not have to be read in sequence but Kerr's sardonic, Chandleresque German detective is back in 1941 Berlin, ducking and diving as he tries to operate within the Nazi system. "Brown on the outside, red on the inside", he does what he can to alleviate the suffering of Jewish neighbours, and it's his exchange of priceless coffee beans for tins to try and stop two elderly Jews from starving which leads to his embroilment with a beautiful blonde, apparently fighting off a rapist.
They start an affair, and Bernie, for all his cynicism, falls in love. (Kerr is excellent at describing this, and sex, in a way that makes the reader suspect more than the narrator.)But Gunther, back in the "Alex" division of the police, is commanded to investigate a classic locked-room mystery by Heydrich, a real-life Nazi in charge of Czechoslovakia, who has every reason to fear for his life. Alone in a country-house full of killers, Gunther is spoilt for choice.
The brilliance of Prague Fatale works on a number of levels. For detective aficionados, using the locked-room mystery in Nazi Germany is a savagely funny way of exploring their crimes - though those familiar with Agatha Christie may not get many surprises as far as the identity of the killer. The atmosphere of Berlin and Prague is perfectly conveyed, with the noir tone being completely justified as it is sometimes not in American fiction. Bernie, as a damaged but decent detective, is at all times aware of the irony of his position, solving crimes while the biggest mass murder of the century is taking place. Lastly, his love affair sets up a horrible denouement which has modern parallels.
Above all, the quality of the writing is such that you can read a few pages at night before falling asleep, and not feel short-changed. I raced through it in an evening, but it deserves to be savoured. I haven't been so delighted by a book since Michael Dibdin's RATKING.