Title: Prussian Blue
Author: Philip Kerr
Kerr, Philip (2018).
|Summary||Bernie Gunther, once Commissar of the Third Reich, is on the run from Erich Mielke, the deputy head of Stasi, and reminisces about a case he investigated seventeen years earlier in which someone shot an engineer on the terrace of Hitler’s private residence.|
|The French Riviera, 1956. Erich Mielke, deputy head of the East German Stasi, has turned up in Nice, and he’s calling in a debt. Mielke wants Bernie go to London with the vial of Thallium, to poison a female agent they both have had dealings with. Friedrich Korsch, an old Kripo comrade now working for Stasi, is there to make sure Bernie gets the job done. As Bernie bolts for the German border, he recalls the summer of 1939, when the body of a low-level bureaucrat was found at Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg. Bernie and Korsch have one week to solve the murder.|
Date Posted: October 26, 2017
Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders
Philip Kerr’s latest thriller, Prussian Blue, features his battered hero/anti-hero Bernie Gunther, a former Berlin detective of the Weimar era, once again in peril because of his checkered past. The novel offers parallel storylines: Gunther is on the run in 1956 France, chased by the East German secret services after he has refused to assassinate a Stasi agent in England (who was his lover); he finds himself flashing back to his investigation of a murder at Berchtesgaden (Hitler’s Alpine lair, the “Eagle’s Nest”) in the late 1930s. There are twists-and-turns along the way, but the stories eventually overlap before they are resolved.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels is their clear portrayal of the top Nazis not as rulers of a modern nation state but instead as corrupt crime family bosses, intent on amassing money and power (justifying their brutal actions by a horrific ideology). Traditional histories sometimes miss this element. Prussian Blue captures this insight, as Gunther learn during this investigation that the local Nazis in Berchtesgaden are dealing drugs and running a prostitution ring. Kerr is also clear-eyed about his protagonist: Bernie has committed crimes, done horrible things to stay alive—but his moral compass is not broken, and this native Berliner does what he can to set things right in his rough-and-ready way.
Prussian Blue draws on recent historical research suggesting that the Third Reich’s leaders and soldiers were jacked up on stimulants, particularly Pertavin, a version of methamphetamine. There is some irony in the hypocrisy of Nazis high on meth when their Führer was a strident non-smoking vegetarian (with his own secret drug habit).
If there’s a weakness in the novel, it’s that Kerr asks the reader to suspend belief when it comes to Bernie Gunther’s colorful and often subversive verbal pyrotechnics, which are typically aimed at high-placed Nazis and other grim authority figures. The wise-cracking Bernie has “no filter” (to use a 2017 term), when expressing his views. In real life, his sarcasm, thinly-veiled political insults, and outright insubordination would have bought him a one-way ticket to a concentration camp, no matter how useful his talents as an investigator might be.
 Flanders, Jefferson, “Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2017,” accessed at http://www.jeffersonflanders.com/2017/01/top-spy-thrillers-and-espionage-novels-of-2017/