The Other Side of Silence


Title:                      The Other Side of Silence

Author:                Philip Kerr

Kerr, Philip (2016). The Other Side of Silence. New York: [Marian Wood Books], published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2016006378

PR6061.E784 O84 2016.

Summary

  • “From New York Times-bestselling author Philip Kerr, the much anticipated return of Bernie Gunther in a series hailed by The Daily Beast as “the best crime novels around today.” Once I’d been a good detective in Kripo, but that was a while ago, before the criminals wore smart gray uniforms and nearly everyone locked up was innocent.” Being a Berlin cop in 1942 was a little like putting down mousetraps in a cage full of tigers. The war is over. Bernie Gunther, our sardonic former Berlin homicide detective and unwilling SS officer, is now living on the French Riviera. It is 1956 and Bernie is the go-to guy at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, the man you turn to for touring tips or if you need a fourth for bridge. As it happens, a local writer needs just that, someone to fill the fourth seat in a regular game that is the usual evening diversion at the Villa Mauresque. Not just any writer. Perhaps the richest and most famous living writer in the world: W. Somerset Maugham. And it turns out it is not just a bridge partner that he needs; it’s some professional advice. Maugham is being blackmailedperhaps because of his unorthodox lifestyle. Or perhaps because of something in his past, because once upon a time, Maugham worked for the British secret service, and the people now blackmailing him are spies. As Gunther fans know, all roads lead back to the viper’s nest that was Hitler’s Third Reich and to the killing fields that spread like a disease across Europe. Even in 1956, peace has not come to the continent: now the Soviets have the H-bomb and spies from every major power feel free to make all of Europe their personal playground”– Provided by publisher.

Subjects

Date Posted:      November 23, 2016

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Philip Kerr had to be persuaded by his publisher to continue his series of Bernie Gunther novels. His latest (his eleventh), The Other Side of Silence, proves that Kerr made the right decision, at least as far as his readers go—it’s a clever, entertaining thriller that also zeros in on the sorry state of British intelligence in the mid-1950s and touches upon some of the morally-suspect Cold War bargains made by both sides of that protracted conflict.

Kerr has no use for the fiction—advanced by Ian Fleming and John le Carré among others—that the post-war British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) was particularly effective or competent, or that it deserved the trust or respect of the American intelligence community. (The BBC’s recent video release of British traitor Kim Philby describing MI6’s lax security to a group of East German spies underscores the awkward, and ugly reality of the dysfunctional and compromised agency.)

As The Other Side of Silence opens in 1956, Kerr’s cynical protagonist, Bernie Gunther, is working as a concierge at Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera during the summer of the Suez crisis. Gunther’s checkered past as a Berlin cop, private detective, and (coerced) SS officer once again catches up to him. He’s blackmailed into helping the famous British novelist W. Somerset Maugham deal with a blackmailer threatening to expose Maugham’s connection to England’s gay demimonde[2] (homosexuality is a crime in mid-century Great Britain).

Gunther quickly learns of the Maugham’s tangled history with both MI6 and members of the Cambridge spy ring, those upper-class Brits—like Donald Mclean, Guy Burgess, and Philby—who betrayed their class and country by spying for the Soviets. The Other Side of Silence is filled with plenty of intriguing twists and turns, a fair bit of black humor, and an uncompromising perspective on the ugliness of European history in the 20th century.

Like his hero, Kerr is a populist at heart, and he paints a devastating portrait of the arrogant and dimwitted upper echelons of Anthony Eden’s England. Gunther wisecracks somewhat less and ponders life somewhat more than in Kerr’s earlier novels and yet he notes: “Experience has taught me that it’s better to be serious and I should know; I’ve tried and failed to be serious on thousands of occasions.”

[1] Jefferson Flianders, “Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2016,” downloaded November 23, 2016

[2] Demimonde: a group of people considered to be on the fringes of respectable society.

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