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Books, Reviews

FIELD GRAY, by Philip Kerr

06.22.11 | Comment?

Bernie Gunther just wants to be left alone. Wanted for war crimes he didn’t commit back in post-WWII Germany, forced to flee from Argentina after he discovers a few uncomfortable facts, he’s now living under an assumed name in Cuba, splitting his time between the casinons and the bordellos. Even in Havana he can’t find peace, as a secret policeman named Quevedo strong-arms him into turning informant.

So a little boat trip to Haiti seems like a good idea. Especially with a companion like Melba, beautiful and young. The fact that she’s wanted for murder is a bit of a turn-off, but at Bernie’s age he can’t be choosy. Things were going swimmingly right up until the United States Navy boards their boat, and Melba pulls a gun.

So begins Field Gray, Philip Kerr’s seventh novel about Bernie. This time Bernie isn’t the detective; he’s the suspect and the witness, questioned by US Army war crimes investigators, by the CIA, and by French intelligence. His story is the story of much of Europe, from the rising political thuggery in the early thirties, through invasions of France and Russia, to post-war chaos.

This is more a historical novel than a crime story, since there’s no crime to investigate, and since Bernie is no longer the tarnished knight he once was. In the early books of the series he still had the burning sense of justice that led him to quit the Berlin police rather than work for the Nazis, but as the years have passed he’s been forced to make compromises to stay alive. Now he’s weary, and nearly powerless. He can’t fight his captors, he can only insult them.

I’ve read all the books in this series, and in my opinion this is the finest. At the end of the book I was torn. Bernie deserves to find the peace he craves, but a peaceful retirement doesn’t leave much room for a sequel, now does it?

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