Best 1990 Adventures (5)
May 4, 2020
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1990 adventure novels.
Philip Kerr’s Berlin noir historical crime adventure The Pale Criminal.
In his second appearance, hardboiled private investigator Bernie Gunther is blackmailed by the Kripo — the Berlin criminal police — into rejoining their ranks and leading the investigation of a series of vicious crimes. (Teenage girls — “Aryan” types — are being raped and murdered. It’s a grisly story.) It’s the summer of 1938, and Gunther’s fellow countrymen wonder whether Hitler will plunge Europe into another war; meanwhile, Gunther seeks to avenge his partner, Bruno Stahlecker, who has been killed while investigating another blackmailing case. As per usual with Kerr, the period detail is impressive — overwhelming, at times. Gunther is a “good” German, inasmuch as he hates the Nazis. However, he’s homophobic, misogynistic, and lecherous; he’s not a sympathetic character. A brutal man navigates a brutalizing social order, investigating a brutal crime. The trail leads to Julius Streicher, Nazi mob boss and publisher of the sensationalist newspaper Der Stürmer, which seems to know too much about the killings — which Streicher is eager to pin on supposedly sinister Jews. Homosexuality, drug addiction, psychotherapy, and spiritualism play a role in the plot of this short, disturbing mystery.
Fun facts: The story takes place between August 26th and November 10th — that is, between the negotiations (and appeasement, on the part of the main European powers) that resulted in Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland, and Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi Party’s paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Germany.
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