‘The One From The Other’ might be one of the best surprises I’ve had in a while. You notice a book at the store, read the summary on the back cover, like it & often end up buying it. But it’s not everyday you are enthralled by the book itself, exceeding your expectations. Well, Philip Kerr‘s does live up to what it promises.
The story opens with in Munich, 1949. Germany is still reeling from the defea & humiliation inflicted in WWII, as the victorious Americans detest the very presence of the locals in their homeland. Nazi war criminals are fleeing the country before the CIA or the Jewish firing squads can bring them to justice. In this atmosphere, Bernie Gunther looks to resume his vocation as a private detective, as he had been before the war. However, things aren’t exactly rosy & clients are hard to come by, which means he has to do some not-quite-reputable work to get by, whuch means working for the very people he detested when Hitler was in power.
Then one day, a woman arrives at his office with an unusual request – her husband, a wanted man for genocide, is missing & she just wants confirmation he’s never coming back. The pay’s generous as well & it all seems a routine job for Gunther. Except this is post-war Germany, where nothing is simple as it looks. As Gunther digs deeper into the husband’s disappearance, he is drawn into a deadly game which he never anticipated.
The plot & its pacing is somewhat reminiscent of Martin Cruz Smith’s “Gorky Park” another gritty thriller but set in Russia during the Cold War. Kerr paints a vivid description of Germany of that era, where a defeatist spirit looms large over the nation, even as the citizens are trying to move on with their lives & put their past behind them. Even the way he recreates Vienna is near-perfect (for perfection, seek out The Third Man by Graham Greene) – a city divided into four different zones & run by a diplomatic military force called the International Patrol. Even when the narrative digresses a bit into episodes from Gunther’s past, the writing holds the story together & keep the reader engaged.
And is Bernie Gunther a funny guy? Oh yes. Incredibly. The kind who says the funniest things with a straight face. Okay, sometimes with a sarcastic smile as well. But this novel benefits strongly from its protagonist, who lights up the narrative with frequent doses of sardonic humour. The characterisation overall is also quite good, many of them behind the veil of mystery at first & then showing their true colours as the plot progresses.
‘The One From The Other’ is not the first Bernie Gunther novel – there have been three before, forming part of the acclaimed ‘Berlin Trilogy’. I remember reading that Gunther is modelled upon Raymond Chandler‘s immortal creation Philip Marlowe, but I’m not really qualified to comment on that. However, Kerr states John le Carre among his inspirations & that is a bit evident in the dour, meticulous manner the narrative moves forward.
The only shortcoming of this novel is its somewhat hurried climax – one moment Gunther is in a really tight spot & suddenly, he’s on his way out of trouble. The thing is given Kerr dedicates a good number of pages to let the tensions rise & speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have had any qualms had Kerr opted for a final flourish that took a while longer to pan out. The ending also surprised me a bit, but that’s Bernie Gunther for you – he believes in poetic justice.
‘The One From The Other’ by Philip Kerr is a fine & well-written crime novel and is recommended for fans of international crime thrillers.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
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