It was with great excitement that
I learned that Sam Eastland was taking Inspector Pekkala into Berlin in the end
days of WW2. Eastland had been one of those authors I was always interested in
giving a try but just hadn't got around to. Berlin Red seemed
like a great place to start.
And it the beginning of the novel
that lost me. The long, long, long beginning. The novel is called BERLIN Redand the blurb promised a tense thriller. The Nazis have
perfected an advanced guidance system for the V-2 rockets, the Soviets send
Pekkala to Berlin to get it. Already Eastland has my attention as this set up
is rife with tremendous possibilities. Even throwing in what has become the
tired cliché of someone (in this case, Pekkala) returning to Berlin to save
someone he left behind (in this case, the woman he loves) who, of course, is the
key spy the Nazis are hunting for leaking key information to the Allies. This
tired subplot aside, the premise still held my interest.
So let's get Pekkala to Berlin
and the espionage, cat and mouse games can begin. Right? Wrong! I read the
novel in ebook format and the little counter tracking my progress revealed what
my reading experience had shown me. Our intrepid hero arrives in Berlin after
I'd read 71% of the novel! With a title like BERLIN Red, should
the reader get through almost three-quarters of the book before the protagonist
is even in Berlin?
Not the end of the world - if
that 71% is compelling fiction. It isn't. This is a very
talky novel delving
into the characters via flashbacks and endless conversations. Almost nothing
happens and the style did not keep this reader turning pages. We've got
Pekkala's lady love passing info to the Nazis. Hitler listening to the
broadcasts where her info is transmitted. A switch in the lead man on the Nazi
hunt. The spy's boss and his life with his mistress. And Stalin hell-bent on
ruining Pekkala's life. All of these threads grind the narrative to a halt. If
this was, say, the first 50 pages to set the stage, it would still be pushing
things. I remind you the novel is called BERLIN
Red and there is no
"Red" until three-quarters of the book has crawled passed your sleepy
eyes. And this goes on not for 50 pages but for 275 pages! Where's the autobahn
when you need it? I was beginning to wonder if Pekkala would ever reach Berlin.
Eastland creates mildly
interesting characters. His period details are distributed well and he has done
his research. But Berlin Red is a dull as dishwater read. There are
moments of action but they are very few and far between. This is a talky novel
and not a very good one.
You can put this one at the bottom end of the Berlin Noir canon.
A Review of John-Philip Penny's PANZERFAUST:
The Fall of Nazi Germany
Normally Berlin Noir Reviews
takes a bit of a break in the summer. Our assumption is that folks are out and
about during the sunny weather and less inclined to be pouring over blogs on
screens blinded by sun glare. But that doesn't mean we've forgotten our fellow
Berlin Noir fans.
Case in point: Penny's PANZERFAUST: The Fall of Nazi Germany.
Not noir per se but still a quick readas summer wanes. It is a short story, some 41 pages, and was offered
free for you Kindle at the time of this review.
The tale introduces us to Wolf
Winter, a member of the Hitler Youth brainwashed into Nazism at a very young
age. It is Berlin, the year 1945, days before the end of the war. Young Wolf
has grown adept with the panzerfaust, or armor fist, used to destroy Russian
tanks clanking into the city. He's a dedicated National Socialist weapon but
he's a dying breed - both figuratively and literally as the surviving Volkssturm
have mostly, and realistically, given up hope of any kind of victory and are
resigned to their fate. Not Wolf, however, he's determined to fight until the
As I said, this is a short
story not a novel. It moves very quickly and Penny's characterizations are spot
on and deftly depicted in the brief narrative. As for the writing itself, Penny
shows great promise but is not quite there yet. I see only good things for his
work as he has the skills just not the experience.
PANZERFAUST: The Fall of Nazi Germany is worth your time. If you can get it as part of the free promotion, you won't be disappointed. If not a sample will tell you if the writing is worth paying for. It moves well, it captures the feel of the harrowing period and the situation. The characters come across as three-dimensional - no small feat within the confines of the short narrative. I would love to see more this writer on this subject.
A Review of Philip Kerr's THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE
Bernie Gunther is back for more
misery and melancholy in THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE.
This is our 11th go-round with the bitter former detective and, while not a
refreshing take on the character and his shadowy world, the novel is a great
addition to the canon.
The previous installment,THE LADY FROM ZAGREB, was a
disappointment for this long-time reader of the series and so I approached the
new one with a hint of trepidation. Was the series starting to show its age?
Had we seen enough of Bernie Gunther and his ocean of troubles?
THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE
opens with Gunther's recounting of his attempt to commit suicide - an attempt
foiled by circumstance and not by any action of Bernie's. So, yeah, he's not in
a good place from the outset. He's seen too much horror, his wife has left him
and, working as a concierge in the Grand Hotelon the French Riviera in 1956 just isn't doing it for him anymore. Throw
in the arrival of an ex-Nazi Gunther hates and a heavy dose of carbon monoxide
seems like a good idea.
Avoiding death by pure chance, Gunther decides to soldier on a
little longer. Another guest, Anne French, a beautiful writer desperate to meet W. Somerset Maugham and a bridge game here and there are about to get Gunther into heaps of trouble.
Maugham, a homosexual, is being blackmailed and has asked Bernie Gunther specifically to see to the delivery of payment for a compromising photograph. Maugham and Gunther hit it off (hey, Gunther always gets along in his Forest Gump moments) and, reluctantly agrees to convey the payoff, especially when he learns that the blackmailer is the ex-Nazi he spotted earlier.
Before you know it, Gunther is mixed up in something a lot bigger than a potentially damaging photograph. Maugham, who actually was a spy in his younger days, has embroiled Gunther in a web of international intrigue. Bernie, of course, has fallen in lust (is he capable of love at this point?) with the fetching Anne French. The pot is ready to boil and when it does, all hell breaks loose.
Gunther fans can see that THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE belongs with the other books in the canon dealing with Gunther's later years, long after the war. As with the other entries, there is a lengthy flashback to Barlin and Konigsberg and we learn the details of Gunther's life in 1945 that are captivating. No spoilers. As good as the flashbacks are, the novel could have worked just as well without them. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they are in the book because they are written with Kerr's usual brilliance in evoking the past. It is, rather, that the connection to the current tale is tenuous at beast even with the involvement of the ex-Nazi in both sections.
Overall, this is a compelling read. THE LADY FROM ZAGREB was an off-speed pitch, more love story than adventure of detective novel and this switch in emphasis reduced the mystery/detection/historical elements to a point of transparency. The balance is much, much better in THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE. I found all of the plotlines interesting and there's always enough going on to keep the pages turning. Never dull, the plot cracks along and the ending might set the record for the longest sustained lies in the history of fiction. Yes, the climax comes with a flurry of words, not bullets, but you won't mind because the novel will have sucked you in at this point.
Bernie Gunther will return in PRUSSIAN BLUE most likely in the spring of 2017. Until then, THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE returns Kerr to the top of the Berlin Noir heap. It's a great you don't want to miss.