‘The Pale Criminal’ is Philip Kerr’s second book featuring Berlin detective Bernie Gunther and is set in 1938, two years after the first book. The first three books ‘March Violets’, ‘The Pale Criminal’ and ‘A German Requiem’ are available in the Omnibus – ‘Berlin Noir’.
Gunther has taken on a partner in his private detective business – Bruno Stahlecker was a good cop and Gunther’s contact within Kripo (the Berlin police), so when Bruno is transferred to a dead-end job because of his lack of enthusiasm towards the Nazis, Gunther convinces him to leave the police force.
They carry out an investigation for a woman who is being blackmailed with some homosexual love letters written by her son. They discover who the black mailer is, but while on a stakeout, Bruno is murdered.
Bruno’s murder coincides with Gunther receiving a summons from Heydrich. The police are investigating the serial murder of blonde, blue-eyed, Aryan young women, but seem to be unable to solve the crime without simply blaming the Jews. Heydrich realises that Gunther is one of few people capable of leading a proper investigation. And with Heydrich being high up in the SS, it is impossible for Gunther to say no. So, Gunther rejoins the police as a Kommissar.
The investigation throws Gunther into the depths of Nazi politics, revealing high level rivalries within the SS and exposing the Nazi obsessions with Race, religion and mysticism.
It is a delicate operation for Gunther to unravel the crime without stepping on the wrong high-ranking toes along the way and getting himself killed.
The atmosphere of this book was extremely oppressive. We see the build-up to Kristallnacht where coordinated attacks were carried out against Jews across Germany, and we also see the Nazi take-over of the Sudetenland (Czech and Slovakia). And, we get to see just how difficult it was for people to get by if they did not become a part of the Nazi machine.
I loves one of the quotes from Gunther on finding out the mercy killing is unofficially being carried out on the institutionalised:- ‘ Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you find out that they’ve always been a lot worse than you thought they were. And then they get worse’.
This was probably the best Bernie Gunther book that I’ve read so far and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series – ‘A German Requiem’.
Book Published 1990