Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Bernie Gunther #1

March Violets

Rate this book
Hailed by Salman Rushdie as a "brilliantly innovative thriller-writer," Philip Kerr is the creator of taut, gripping, noir-tinged mysteries that are nothing short of spellbinding.

The first book of the Berlin Noir trilogy, March Violets introduces readers to Bernie Gunther, an ex-policeman who thought he'd seen everything on the streets of 1930's Berlin; until he turned freelance and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi subculture. Bernhard Gunther, a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons — mostly Jews. He is summoned by a wealthy industrialist to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace. Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler's two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler. The search for clues takes Gunther to morgues overflowing with Nazi victims; raucous nightclubs; the Olympic games where Jesse Owens tramples the theory of Aryan racial superiority; the boudoir of a famous actress; and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Fights with Gestapo agents, shoot-outs with adulterers, run-ins with a variety of criminals, and dead bodies in unexpected places keep readers guessing to the very end.

Hard-hitting, fast-paced, and richly detailed, March Violets is noir writing at its blackest and best.

245 pages, Paperback

First published March 23, 1989

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Philip Kerr

153 books1,834 followers
Philip Kerr was a British author. He was best known for his Bernie Gunther series of 13 historical thrillers and a children's series, Children of the Lamp, under the name P.B. Kerr.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,949 (24%)
4 stars
6,853 (41%)
3 stars
4,293 (26%)
2 stars
976 (5%)
1 star
345 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,521 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books249k followers
March 30, 2020
 photo Berlin_zpsv4rg6648.jpg

”Back in the bedroom, she was still standing there, waiting for me to come and help myself. Impatient of her, I snatched her knickers down, pulling her onto the bed, where I prised her sleek, tanned thighs apart like an excited scholar opening a priceless book. For quite a while I pored over the text, turning the pages with my fingers and feasting my eyes on what I had never dreamed of possessing.”

I have to appreciate the fact that Bernhard “Bernie” Gunther compares having sex with a beautiful woman with the same excitement that a scholar/book collector might feel with possessing a rare book.

I knew I was going to like this guy.

Bernie has been watching with bitter amusement as the powers that be are slowly sanitizing the city of, in particular, their malicious anti-semitism, in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games. They do not want to offend all those people who will be coming to Berlin from all over the world to see Jesse Owens kick some Aryan ass.

 photo Jesse20Owens_zpsclmq7njo.jpg

It is inconceivable that a black man can beat the best athletes of the master race. ”Watching the tall, graceful negro accelerate down the track, making a mockery of crackpot theories of Aryan superiority, I thought that Owens was nothing so much as a Man, for whom other men were simply a painful embarrassment. To run like that was the meaning of the earth, and if ever there was a master race it was certainly not going to exclude someone like Jesse Owens.”

The Nazis are even letting books that have been previously banned reappear in local bookshops. A woman even says to Bernie that he better run down and buy Alfred Doblin’s great novel Berlin Alexanderplatz and read it before it is banned once more.

My question is, if the Nazi Party truly believes that what they are doing and what they believe is correct, then why do they feel the need to hide their behavior from other people?

Bernie used to be a Bull for the police department, but has found that his personality is better suited to private investigation. He might still have to deal with hypocrisy, but he doesn’t have to work for hypocrisy. He takes a job working for the ultra wealthy Hermann Six, who wants him to recover a necklace that was stolen from his daughter’s house the night that she and her husband were murdered. Bernie also almost meets Six’s movie star wife, Ilse Rudel. ”I watched her walk towards the library door behind me. Frau Six---I couldn’t get over it---was tall and blonde and as healthy-looking as her husband’s swiss bank account. There was a sulkiness about her mouth, and my acquaintance with the science of physiognomy told me that she was used to having her own way: in cash.

Bernie about catches a chill as she walks by him. She’d eventually warms up.

The case takes Bernie places he never wanted to be, like in the middle of a power play between Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler. He also has the distinct displeasure of meeting Reinhard Heydrich. Truly, this is a trio of SOBs who, if there is such a place as hell, should be burning at the deepest, darkest, stankiest level of perpetual agony. ”I am Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich,” which just about makes me toss my cookies.

 photo Heydrich_zpseszxhgwu.jpg
Reinhard “Psychopath” Heydrich

It is difficult living in a society in so much upheaval. People are disappearing, concentration camps are already being established, and no one knows what the code for living is anymore. It changes, and given time, everyone feels like eventually they will trip up and be punished for some infraction that they didn’t even know existed.

”You are Nothing, Your Nation is Everything.”

Just when you think that Bernie has taken all the thumps to the head, the body blows, and the mind twists of multilayered lies that he can take, he gets sent to Dachau by the Gestapo to extract information that is dire to key individuals important to the party. He finds it or he stays. Needless to say, he is incentivized. ”His luck hadn’t so much run out as jumped on a fucking motorcycle” and is heading for the horizon.

Philip Kerr manages, between all the hardboiled dialogue, to layer in a real sense of what is really going on and how everyone at every level of society is being affected by such a radical regime change. It is like a galloping horse that no one is strong enough to haul back on the reins and slow it down. It is truly a scary time for all German people, even those who feel like they are in the favored groups. For Jews, we all know what they go through; I just had no idea it was beginning this early. Some of the hardboiled dialogue is really good; some is ridiculous, and sometimes it is hilarious, as well. I’m definitely looking forward to the other two books in the Berlin Noir trilogy. I’m also looking forward to picking up Doblin’s book before it disappears from the stores again.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Adina .
892 reviews3,559 followers
September 23, 2020
This is going to be a short one. March Violets is probably the first classic detective Noir that I've read. What attracted me towards this series was the setting. I have a fascination for Berlin and I do not know much about the pre-war period in the city.

Overall, I liked this novel but I think there is room for improvement. I learned interesting aspects about pre-war Germany and the extensive corruption in that period, I enjoyed the sarcastic humour of the detective and the mystery was satisfying.

What rubbed me the wrong way was the detective's love life. He seemed to be surrounded only by beautiful women and all were more than eager to spread their legs for Bernie, almost instantly. A friend told me in the comments section that this will not happen too much in the future and the writing will also get better so I can't wait to see for myself.

I usually read two novels before I make up my mind about a series so I will probably get to the next one soon.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,197 reviews1,821 followers
September 4, 2022

Nel grande mare – e mi sa che a questo punto è diventato un oceano – degli investigatori, pubblici (poliziotti, nei vari gradi e corpi di appartenenza) e privati, avvocati e magistrati, dilettanti e amatori (vedi Bar Lume o il Vittore Guerrieri di Caterina Emili), il Bernie Gunther di Philip Kerr si ritaglia da subito un posto particolare.
Da subito perché questo è il primo di una trilogia ambientata a Berlino: ma poi Gunther va girando per altri undici romanzi tra Praga, la Grecia, Zagabria, e chissà dove altro, non li ho letti, e non so se lo farò, c’è un limite al mio entusiasmo dopo questa prima conoscenza, quattordici storie con e di Bernie Gunther mi paiono davvero tante.

Leni Riefenstahl: Olympia (1938).

Il piglio che Kerr imprime alla sua narrazione e al suo protagonista è prossimo all’hard boiled, ma non così hard: per esempio, la lingua lunga – si potrebbe dire lingua al vetriolo – classica degli investigatori pubblici e privati hard boiled viene qui un pochino mitigata. E Bernie Gunther non sembra così smanioso di farsi corcare di botte per la soddisfazione di esprimere la sua tagliente opinione: così, quando si trova seduto davanti a Hermann Göring – sì, sì, proprio quel Göring lì, quello tristemente famoso - sta bene attento a quello che dice, sa che una parola sbagliata, o una parola di troppo, lo farebbero prontamente rinchiudere in un campo di concentramento (Dachau fu il primo a essere attivato, Kerr ce lo ricorda); se si accorge di essere circondato da tre SS ben piazzate e dallo sguardo minaccioso, non si va a cercare la sua razione di cazzotti e manganellate.

Leni Riefenstahl in azione (1936).

Sono rimasto colpito dall’ambientazione storica, che risulta molto credibile e verosimile, con ampio uso di approfondita topografia e urbanistica dell’epoca. Non so perché il fatto che Kerr sia scozzese mi ha fatto apparire le sue ricerche storiche e la sua preparazione impresa quasi titanica.
Ad arricchire il già ricco sfondo della Berlino nazista, in questa occasione ci sono anche le celebri Olimpiadi del 1936: i nazisti ripuliscono la città, non vogliono che il mondo sappia quanto loro stanno facendo a ebrei, zingari, omosessuali, comunisti, socialisti, socialdemocratici, oppositori politici, liberi pensatori, non allineati, russi, portatori di handicap, ladri… avevano rimesso in funzione la ghigliottina che di solito decapitava colli e teste verso l’alba.
Le Olimpiadi del 1936 sono quelle rimaste nella storia per le quattro medaglie d’oro di Jesse Owens (100m, 200m, staffetta 4x100, salto in lungo) e per il magnifico film celebrativo di Leni Riefenstahl.

Jesse Owens in azione (1936).

Gli ingredienti classici ci sono tutti: il detective privato Bernie Gunther, ex poliziotto, ex sergente nella Grande Guerra, suscita poca simpatia tra i suoi ex colleghi poliziotti perché non si allineava; lavora per i soldi, ma soprattutto per trovare la verità e far sì che almeno una fiammella di giustizia possa accendersi; è sufficientemente attraente da finire a letto anche con una star del cinema, salvo poi scoprire che c’è l’inghippo; è un ficcanaso, che di algoritmi nulla sa, getta la rete, fa domande, procede a caso, prende botte, spara a qualcuno ma viene anche sparato.
Quello che però è novità assoluta è il lungo finale che è davvero un colpo di scena – di quelli che non si devono anticipare – che contribuisce a far fare un ulteriore salto di qualità a un romanzo pregevole già dal principio.

Leni Riefenstahl: Olympia (1938).

- In genere sono un ottimo giudice del carattere di una persona – disse, a mo’ di spiegazione, - ma se questo la consola, Herr Gunther, temo di averla seriamente sottovalutata. Non mi ero aspettato che indagasse con tanta ostinazione. Francamente, pensavo, che avrebbe fatto esattamente quello che le era stato detto. Ma lei non è il tipo cui piace sentirsi dire cosa fare, non è vero?
- Quando prendi un gatto per acchiappare i topi in cucina, non puoi sperare che ignori i ratti in cantina.
- Suppongo di no, - disse.

Le “violette di marzo” del titolo sono i neofiti nazisti dell’ultimo momento, quelli che si aggregarono al carrozzone per convenienza, carriera e/o vantaggio economico.

Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
March 7, 2019
Berlin Noir.

March Violets, Philip Kerr’s 1992 introduction to German detective Bernard Gunther is a deliciously dark journey through the 1936 Berlin underground. We follow Gunther along an investigation that connects with the ‘36 Olympics with Jesse Owens, midnight liaisons with Prime Minister Herman Goering and solving a crime with the Gestapo lurking in the shadows.

Gunther, with a “mind like a comic book” is a WWI German veteran of the Turkish campaign and former Berlin police officer who is now doing Private Investigator work. His clients include Jewish mothers looking for their missing person son and lost gypsies. When a German steel magnate calls with a high paying job, Gunther is dragged into more than he bargained for.

Author Kerr has chosen as his setting 1936 Berlin, amidst the corruption and decadence of the early Nazi regime. His depiction of the German people, essentially making the best out of a bad situation and trying to stay out of trouble is hypnotic and dark. Kerr spares his reader none of the ugliness of the times while guiding his readers through a back alley view of a murder investigation that goes wrong.

Kerr’s writing pays tribute to the Noir writers of the past while making allowances for modern insensitivities. His similes and metaphors are especially good and made me smile throughout the narrative.

The title is taken from "March violets" who were opportunist late-comers to the Nazi Party after the passage of Hitler's Enabling Act rendering him dictator, on March 23, 1933. An original and entertaining journey through a dark period.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,541 followers
April 18, 2013
This is a case in which the first in a great series has significant flaws, but represents an essential read to set the context and history of the lead character.

PI Bernie Gunther makes a pretty good business tracking down people who have disappeared. That most of them are found to have been permanently disappeared by Nazi or communist factions is a sign of the times, Berlin in 1936. Out of the blue he gets tasked for a job by a wealthy steel magnate, the recovery of an expensive diamond brooch taken during the murder of his daughter and her husband. Though he is supposed to leave the murder aspect aside for the police, he can’t help it that finding the jewelry requires him to investigate the possibility that the theft was a side issue to murder driven by typical motives such as jealousy, political competition, or cover-up of some corrupt scheme.

The clues he turns up takes him down all these paths, and leads him on a fascinating tour of German society on the verge of war. Not everyone was obsessed with racial purity or surviving the oppression. People were trying to live their lives despite Hitler, and many others were “March Violets”, those who “jump on the Party wagon and riding it to make a quick profit.” People have a lot to hide, and poor Bernie gets beat up or nearly killed a lot. But he has a thick skin to go with his devious mind, and the alignment of justice and personal revenge drives him to keep going. He’s pretty much a lech, which leads him to trysts whenever the opportunity comes up.

Thus, you can see a classic noir plot in an unusual setting of Nazi Germany. I loved the combination, especially when it brings Bernie’s cynical outlook to deflate the grandiose and evil among the Nazis down to the level of pompous and greedy. Cameos of nefarious people in this tale include Goering, who hired him briefly to determine the fate of his gay art buyer, and Heydrich, who forces him to take on a dangerous undercover task. The latter is the start of a relationship that sets his path in subsequent books in the series, of which I have only read one.

Aside from limitations in the depth of Kerr’s new hero in this book, the biggest writing sin is the excessive use of Chanderesque similes. They are just too painful and distracting. Luckily he toned it down in later books. This small set should give you a clear picture:

Fatso pulled the huge brown-and-black moustache that clung to his curling lip like a bat on a crypt wall.

I drove home feeling like a ventriloquist’s mouth ulcer.

He adjusted his grip on the gun, and swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple tossing around like a honeymoon couple under a thin pink sheet.

Tesmer pointed a face at me in which belligerence was moulded like cornice-work on a Gothic folly.

They both had cool patient eyes, like mussels in brine.

He had mustard coloured hair, coifed by a competition sheep-shearer, and a nose like a champaign cork.

…she’d evidently been wearing a boxing glove when she applied the crimson lipstick to her paperclip of her mouth. Her breasts were like the rear ends of a pair of dray horses at the end of a long hard day.

Profile Image for Maria Clara.
1,017 reviews540 followers
April 8, 2018
Según el Evening Standard esta novela es: "Tensa, brutal, áspera, creíble y apasionante". Y no puedo más que darles la razón. Últimamente me he aficionado a leer alguna que otra novela policiaca, pero si me decidí a leer ésta fue porque pasaba en la Alemania nazi. Y no me ha defraudado. He podido percibir el día a día de esa época, la corrupción del Estado y lo que es peor, leer sobre las atrocidades de un campo de concentración.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,191 reviews1,134 followers
January 15, 2016
2.5 Stars

" Bernard Gunther is a private eye, specializing in missing persons. In Hitler's Berlin, He is never short of work."

A thriller with an interesting setting but the author's numerous wisecracks became a bit tiresome and just didnt float my boat overall.

I am not a fan of private Eye style thrillers which become a series but I choose this book because it was set in Berlin during the Winter of 1936 and thought the setting for a crime novel in Nazi Germany could work and be really interesting.

About 50 pages into the Novel I became very tired of the sarcasm and endless wisecrack attempts at humor of the narrator and while I enjoy humour in any novel this seemed forced. I did find the author's sense of time and place acurate and the book well researched and this was the only reason I stuck with the novel as I found the characters and the plot a bit flat.

An ok read but not one I will be recommending.       
Profile Image for Susan.
2,701 reviews594 followers
March 30, 2018
Having recently read the latest Bernie Gunther novel, “Greeks Bearing Gifts,” I was saddened to read of the death of Philip Kerr. This made me go back to the very first Gunther novel, “March Violets,” the beginning of the Berlin Noir trilogy, which I read in 1989 and have re-visited a few times since.

This time I listened to the audio version. Oddly, at first, Bernie has an American accent, but then, I suppose he is modelled on an old fashioned, gumshoe – the original, world weary, wise cracking, private detective. Although this is set in 1936 Germany, he would have been equally at home in Chicago and, gradually, I got used to the narrator and the strangeness of other characters having German accents, while Bernie himself sounded rather like Sam Spade…

When we first meet Bernie Gunther, he is 38 years old, and ex-cop, turned P.I. Hired by the rich industrialist, Hermann Six, to recover a diamond necklace; stolen from his daughter’s house, when she and her husband were killed. This first investigation sees Bernie seduced by an actress, dealing with crime syndicates, attending the Olympic games and spending time in Dauchau. The fictional world that Kerr created with such care, is also peopled by real, historical characters, such as Goering and Heydrich.

Without doubt, Bernie Gunther is one of my favourite fictional characters. I remember being delighted when, after a long break, Philip Kerr resurrected Gunther, when I thought that the original trilogy were all that we would see from him. I am very grateful for all the further adventures we did have to read – I never tired of reading the world that Kerr created and I enjoyed going back to the original, and first, adventure.

Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
875 reviews2,273 followers
December 31, 2020
Kripo Noir Homage

The first volume of Scottish author Philip Kerr's "Berlin Noir" trilogy (later expanded to 14 novels) is an immaculately conceived and executed homage to the pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler that deserves praise as a work of literature in its own right.

The main difference between the originals and the homage is that, in “March Violets", the setting is transposed to 1936 Nazi Germany just as the Berlin Olympic Games are about to commence.

The writing is word-perfect. There's enough wise-crackery and sexual bravado for the private investigator Bernard Gunther to remind you of Philip Marlowe, while the Nazi context gives you a close perspective on corruption, crime, detection and punishment in the early Third Reich. We even get a snapshot of life in Dachau:

“Shorn of all human rights, man reverts back to the animal.”

“To stay alive it is first necessary to die a little.”

“I learned that there were only two kinds of patient: the sick, who always died, and the injured, who sometimes also got sick.”

“In this clinic death is the usual cure that is available to patients.”

Death seems to come as a relief from the privations of life in a concentration camp.

Authoritarian Respect

The plot is subtle, and both needs and rewards close attention. There are numerous law enforcement and paramilitary authorities (e.g., the traditional police force, Kripo; the SA; the SS; and the Gestapo; all of which mark out their territory and perpetuate an uneasy rivalry.)

Nobody can be trusted, whether in law enforcement, politics, the Nazi Party, business or the community.

You can see how and why people were cheated out of their basic human rights, and became obedient subjects of a totalitarian regime. They just put up and shut up. Anybody who objected or complained was either shot or shipped off to a concentration camp. Paradoxically, authority was everywhere, but genuine respect for authority was non-existent.


SS officer in black dress uniform

Is That An Envelope in Your Pocket?
[An Homage]

I’ve worked as a private investigator, ever since I resigned from Kripo. My resignation wasn't entirely voluntary. I had to leave, because I was tired of playing second fiddle to the Third Reich.

In my line of work, there's nothing I hate more than short, fat, badly educated millionaires, especially ones with tall, beautiful, blonde wives. Herr Hermann Six satisfied all of these criteria, even if he didn't necessarily satisfy his wife, Ilse Rudel, the actress. I have no reason to believe he did (or didn't) satisfy her, it's just that when a woman's husband brags about satisfying her, I automatically disbelieve him. I suppose I could have asked her, but we didn't have much time, and we had better things to do.

Ilse was the reason Herr Six summoned me to his mansion one afternoon in June, 1936. From the outside, it looked like a museum or a public art gallery. I couldn't live in a place like that, even if it was rent-free and the maids ran around ready, willing and naked.

Herr Six wanted to pay me 25,000 Marks to prove that Ilse was having an affair. It was a lot of money back then. It would have paid off all of my debts, and funded my lifestyle for several years. Even so, I was reluctant to take on the case, at least until Herr Six told me that they didn't cohabit, and Ilse actually lived in a separate apartment in Potsdam not far from the UFA film studio.

Anyway, I decided to accept his proposal, at which point he opened the safe behind his untidy desk (it was as big as a billiard table) and removed an envelope, which when I checked it, contained payment in full in cash. He asked me when I could start the job. Normally, I would respond that I'd start when I'd spent the first half of my fee, but I didn't think we'd have the same sense of humour. It was bad enough that, evidently, we had the same taste in women.

Before I had the chance to enquire about Ilse's address, there was an insistent knock on the door of the study we were in. We both turned around at the same time, and before he could respond, a woman who I knew to be Ilse entered the study. I had already seen all of her films, and didn't need to be convinced that she was the most beautiful woman in Berlin. She was even more impressive off-screen and in-the-flesh.

Herr Six looked her up and down in the same manner I had, perhaps mimicking me, and said, “Very convenient timing, Ilse. Can I introduce you to your new security consultant, Bernard Graye.”

She smiled and responded, “Hello, Bernie.” At the same time, she shook my hand. Her hand was as firm and soft as I imagined her breasts would be. I had some inkling of what they were like, because I could see the pressure they exerted on her transparent flesh-coloured blouse. Her nipples projected like two rivets on the hull of a Kriegsmarine battleship.

Herr Six returned to the safe and withdrew another envelope, presumably containing cash, and handed it to Ilse.

She asked, “Do I have to pay Bernie out of this?”

He shook his head, and said, “I've already taken care of Herr Graye. You needn't worry your pretty little head about that.”

It was my turn to speak: “Herr Six, could I impose on you to book me a taxi, please?”

Ilse intervened before he had time to respond. “Where do you need to go, Bernie? Perhaps, I could take you for a ride?”

“Thank you, Frau Six. I live about 100 meters from Potsdam Hauptbahnhof."

“Good. You're on my way and within walking distance.”

“Well, I'm glad that's all sorted,” said Herr Six. “These arrangements have turned out to be much more convenient than I anticipated.”

Ilse sat in the back of her Mercedes with me. Only then did I realise that she had a driver. I repeated my directions for him, and we got on our way. No sooner had we left the kerbside than Ilse moved closer to me and sat in the middle seat. She saw my smile, and reciprocated with her own. This looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say in Casablanca.

When we turned right at the end of the street, she almost fell over me, and her head rested on my shoulder, where it remained, until I lifted her jaw and kissed her lips. I was confident the driver couldn't see us...I was directly behind him, and hopefully his head-rest obscured his vision.

Ilse kissed like a newly-wed wife trying to negotiate a higher monthly allowance than she received as a starlet beloved of the biggest production company in town.

The journey to Potsdam seemed to take less time than the standard forty minutes, not that I scrutinised my watch.

When the driver stopped outside my building and I prepared to get out, Ilse said to the driver, “Thanks, Rudi. You can go home. I'll walk the rest of the way.”

We both got out of the car, and watched it move slowly off into the sunset. I put my arms around Ilse and pulled her closer to me. When our hips touched, she sensed my erection, before clasping it with her hand like a butcher checking a sausage for quality control purposes. Then she asked, “Well, are you going to invite me up for a drink?”

Once inside the lobby, the elevator seemed to take a lifetime, both to arrive on the ground floor and to get to my apartment on the fourth. We continued to practise our kissing technique, until the lift stopped, and Ilse waited for me to lead the way to my door.

Today was the day my cleaner normally visited, so I was desperately hoping my apartment would be presentable. It had been a bit of a mess when I left for work this morning.

We walked along the hallway towards the lounge room, where the cleaner had left on a lamp next to the lounge suite. Ilse removed her blouse as we walked, and handed it to me, while she reached for my other hand. She seemed to be looking for my bedroom, before I'd even poured her a drink.

She turned her back on the lounge room when we got to the end of the hallway, and pouted her lips for me to kiss. As I reached towards her, I noticed a black uniform in the chair in the far corner. I didn't remember leaving it there this morning, nor do I recall ever owning an SS officer's dress uniform. I pulled away from Ilse and had a closer look. Not only was there a uniform, but there was a young man in it, holding a pistol, which as far as I could tell, was pointed at my head.

“Herr Graye,” said the officer, “Thank you for turning up so promptly. We weren't sure how long I’d have to wait. Frau Six, I presume, welcome to you, too.” She turned to face him, and he stood up to greet her, as if he already knew how important she was, not just some woman in the arms of a private detective, as topless as Venus de Milo.

I doubt whether Herr Six had warned the SS officer that he might see the intimate side of Frau Six, but he had definitely caught us, if not in the act, then immediately before the act. I hoped that this would suffice for whatever his evidentiary purposes might be, and that he wouldn't deprive me of the contents of the envelope in the pocket of my jacket. After all, I had clearly proven what Herr Six had engaged (and paid) me to prove. Besides, the officer probably had his own envelope.

Profile Image for Sue.
1,273 reviews548 followers
April 14, 2013
Enjoyed this trip to 1930s Germany as the Nazi Party is exerting it's power and remaking the country in the image it wants to present to the world while removing unacceptable people from the streets and homes of the nation. In this setting we encounter Bernhard Gunther, formerly of the police, now a private investigator specializing in finding things and people who are missing---a potentially lucrative area now.

One of my favorite scenes occurs as Bernie meets Hermann Goering in what is a wonderful parody of the times and men.

"Close up, I was struck by smooth, almost babyish quality
of his skin, and I wondered if it was powdered. We sat down.
For several minutes he continued to appear delighted at my
being there, almost childishly so, and after a while he felt
obliged to explain himself.

'I've always wanted to meet a real private detective.'he
said. 'Tell me, have you ever read any of Dashiell Hammett's
detective stories? He's an American, but I think he's

'I can't say I have, sir.'

'Oh, but you should. I shall lend you a German edition of
Red Harvest. You'll enjoy it. And do you carry a gun, Herr

'Sometimes, sir, when I think I might need it.'

Goering beamed like an excited schoolboy. 'Are you carrying
it now?'

I shook my head. 'Rienacker here thought it might scare
the cat.'

'A pity,' said Goering. 'I should like to have seen the gun
of a real shamus.'(p132)

Kerr manages to bring all of these people into the everyday without minimizing the evil they perpetrate without a second thought. They are banal creatures with evil as second nature.

During the course of this mystery novel, the 1936 Olympiad also takes place in Berlin and with it the spectacular performance of one Jesse Owens of the United States. Bernie muses:

"Watching the tall, graceful negro accelerate down the
track, making a mockery of crackpot theories of Aryan
superiority, I thought that Owens was nothing so much as
as a Man, for whom other men were simply a painful
embarrassment. To run like that was the meaning of the
earth, and if there was a master-race it was certainly not
going to exclude someone like Jesse Owens." (p188)

The central mystery itself, which involves killings and theft, forces Bernie to deal with multiple levels of German society and the German police/Gestapo, for better or worse.It's a seedy, tawdry world he often inhabits and a dangerous time in Berlin as all citizens are negotiating the new rules of living.

I'm looking forward to continuing with this series and watching Gunther and his various compatriots deal with the rise of Nazism and the road to war.

Highly recommended for mystery and historical fiction readers.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,788 reviews675 followers
February 22, 2018
As Nate Heller is to American P.I. noir; as Arkady Renko is to Russian P.I. noir; Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther is to Nazi-era P.I. noir.

The words come fast; the cultural references are piled on one another; and our P.I. gets the worst of many encounters. Some favorite quotations:

“(He) wasn’t always that way, and before March 1933 he had been a bit of a Red. He knew that I knew it, and it always worried him there were others who would remember it too. So I didn’t blame him for the picture and the sign. Everyone in Germany was somebody different before March 1933.”

“The interesting thing about the rich is that they like to be told where to get off. They confuse it with honesty.”

“We waited in the library. It wasn’t big by the standards of a Bismarck or a Hindenburg, and you couldn’t have packed more than six cars between the Reichstag-sized desk and the door.”

The medical examiner is speaking. “This is an interesting case, and, I don’t mind telling you, the interesting cases are becoming increasingly rare. With all the people who wind up dead in this city you would think I was busy. But of course, there is usually little or no mystery about how most of them got that way. Half the time I find myself presenting the forensic evidence of a homicide to the very people who committed it. It is an upside down world we live in …How pleasant to talk to someone whose idea of detective work does not involve a spotlight and brass knuckles.”

There is only a certain amount of innocence that any reader can bring to this genre. At least after the first or surely the second book you read, you know that: the assignment isn’t quite what it seems to be; and the client and, often others, aren’t what they seem to be.

Gunther, an ex-cop, is asked to find some very expensive jewelry that went missing when the rich client’s daughter and her husband are murdered and their house set on fire. Gunther is told explicitly not to investigate the murders. This is the mid-1930s when the Nazis are confining most of their muscle-flexing to Germany. Germans have had a couple of years to “Heil Hitler” and the propaganda machine for the pure Aryans is running nicely. Kerr conveys this well while barely pausing in the tense plot to do so. Many are saying and/or doing things on behalf of fascism that they would rather no one else knew about. No surprise that it is doubly hard for Gunther to get the truth out of his client or others who might know more about either the robbery or the murder.
We follow Gunther on a personal and professional downward spiral as he gets deeper and deeper into things that he isn’t fully prepared to deal with. It is a brutal ride for the reader as we are totally immersed in the day-to-day world of National Socialism. We meet a number of “March Violets,” people who sought to improve their opportunities when the Nazis came to power. Gunther also encounters a lot of people who take the easy road of going along with everything that is being done to others, because it isn’t, as yet, being done to them.

This is as close to a noir as possible without fitting Penzler’s definition: “…noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with…” Yet, there is something about Bernie Gunther that keeps us rooting for his side.

Having said that, I will need to take some time before moving on to Kerr’s next novel, The Pale Criminal.

Let me leave you with another bit of characteristic dialogue from this story.

“You’d better give him another,” said the general. “He looks as though his nerves are a bit shaky.” I held out my glass for the refill.
“My nerves are just fine,” I said, nursing my glass. “I just like to drink.”
“Part of the image, eh”
“And what image would that be?”
“Why, the private detective of course. The shoddy little man in the barely furnished office, who drinks like a suicide who’s lost his nerve, and who comes to the assistance of the beautiful but mysterious woman in black….You might not believe it,” he said, “but I have a passion for detective stories.”
Profile Image for Mara.
401 reviews283 followers
August 4, 2014
"March Violets" (Märzveilchen): a term of derision used by the "Old Fighters" (Alte Kämpfer) to refer to those who "opportunistically" joined up with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (aka the Nazi Party ) only after the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) was passed in March of 1933, which, effectively gave Chancellor Adolph Hitler unprecedented power over the people of the Reich (kind of the equivalent of johnny-come-lately/n00b, but in Nazi Germany).*

March 1933 Enabling Act at Reichstag

We meet our detective, Bernard "Bernie" Gunther , in a Berlin chock full of March Violets now well-practiced in their party loyalty after three years of the world of the Third Reich (if math isn't your strong suit, that means it's 1936). This is all a backdrop, however, to what is in most ways a classic noir detective novel — one in which stakes are higher, because a tussle with the wrong characters can easily land you among the faceless masses "gone missing," shipped off to a KZ (Konzentrationslager aka concentration camp).

Gunther has managed to stay in the good graces of the powers that be as a former member of the Krippo (Bernie bowed out in 1933, unable to bear the changes that came with total Nazi power) and as a recipient of a Second-Class Iron Cross for his service in WWI. Nonetheless, the case handed to him (rich guys apparently love to kidnap PIs in limousines at odd hours regardless of place and time) has Bernie testing his luck, as he interferes with the rich, famous and powerful (which, to no one's surprise, involves high-ranking Nazi officials).

Author Philip Kerr makes good use of his chosen setting — the 1936 Summer Olympics have officials rushing to remove Neues Volk from magazine stands, and "Jews not wanted" signs taken down from popular tourist spots. Bernie even gets to witness the triumph of Jesse Owens , in a moment that leaves Berliners thinking only of one "race"- the one taking place on the track below.

Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics

Kerr also makes a point of capturing some of the (at times stranger than fiction) quirks of the likes of Hermann Göring (who dashes off to down a handful of pink pills**). Kerr doesn't take lightly the gravity of what is going on in Berlin. It doesn't feel like a "clever twist," cast aside for the sake of the mystery. Rather, the environment becomes a character unto itself. I've heard this isn't the strongest of the Bernard Gunther collection, so I certainly plan to continue with the series.

* Thanks Glossary of Nazi Germany (which is, apparently, a thing on Wikipedia — you learn something new every day).

** Göring showed up to Mondorf-les-Bains/Camp Ashcan with over twenty thousand tablets of what (after being sent to FBI labs for inspection) turned out to be a synthetic drug that "fills a gap between the codeine and morphine groups," paracodeine (a bit of info I learned about from Jack El-Hai's The Nazi and the Psychiatrist , pp. 11-12).
Profile Image for David Gustafson.
Author 1 book119 followers
March 13, 2019
After complaining that I was running out of re-reads from Raymond Chandler's oeuvre of Philip Marlowe mysteries, a friend suggested that I take a look at the noir novels of Philip Kerr's Berlin detective Bernie Gunther. Never heard of him. I took a quick look.

One reviewer claimed that Kerr was even better than Chandler. Really? I doubted that, but I promised myself that I would be pleased if Kerr were almost as good. I was a heroin junkie coming off my noir addiction and I needed a quick fix. Methadone would be better than nothing.

I began with "March Violets," Kerr's first effort at finding his voice with Bernie Gunther and this genre.

Kerr's noir lingo has more of the flavor of American ketchup than an authentic German sauerkraut and instead of ringing a paragraph at the end with a startling, single note chime that comes from out of nowhere like Chandler, he sort of leans on the noir doorbell a little too much. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much noir smack mouth. Still, I had to admit that he is almost as good as Chandler so I am a happy reader.

This history nerd is giving Kerr an extra star for setting this novel in 1936 Germany. In March 1933, six days after the Reichstag was allegedly set ablaze by a Dutch Communist, the Nazis received 44% of the vote. It would be Germany's last free election until 1949. On March 23, the Enabling Act was passed making Hitler dictator of Germany and unleashing a police state that would consume, intimidate and terrorize the citizenry.

"March Violets" takes place in 1936. The police state has consolidated most of its power though there are some powerful rivalries at play. Germans are afraid to even speak openly to their friends and relatives. Many fear that their past associations will catch up to them, ruin their careers or even land them in prison.

In this environment of fear, where every question has the potential to incriminate, Bernie Gunther is hired by the Ruhr steel magnate, Hermann Six, to find the diamond necklace that was stolen from a safe when his daughter and her husband were murdered and their house set ablaze.

Of course, Bernie Gunther cannot find the necklace without digging further into the murder that has some very dangerous political ramifications.

Kerr leads the reader through an array of encounters with police, Gestapo, gangsters, government officials, the upper class and the underclass with all of the usual twists and turns one expects from the noir genre.

Halfway through, I did figure out the final twist, but not the reason why.

Philip Kerr has passed the "almost as good as Raymond Chandler" test. "The Pale Criminal" waits in the on deck circle.
Profile Image for Isidore.
439 reviews
June 29, 2012
Although there is an abundance of diaries, memoirs, and historical studies which can help us imagine what living in the Third Reich was like, Kerr does not try for psychological realism, but merely imports behaviour and character types from American noir.

As if to compensate for the fundamental phoniness of placing familiar American noir types in a Nazi setting, Kerr clutters his narrative with a mass of pedantic "period" detail, even to the extent of identifying one character's drink as "a glass of Bowle, Berlin's favourite summer beverage". It's as if somebody were to write a New York novel in which Brooklynites sound and act like British aristocrats, and the story grinds to a halt so the author can explain at length how one makes an egg cream.

As for the writing itself: Kerr not only borrows Chandler's characters and their mannerisms (and sometimes even his situations and dialogue), he closely imitates Chandler's oddly poetic prose style. Some modern writers can do this with panache. With Kerr, the results are usually dire. Where Chandler's metaphors are hilarious, startling, or insightful, Kerr's are laboured, if not stupid:

"Compared with the person who had decorated and furnished the place, the Archduke Ferdinand had been blessed with the taste of a troupe of Turkish circus dwarves." (This is also anachronistic, since before the success of J.R.R. Tolkien the plural of "dwarf" was "dwarfs".)

"The place was about as quiet as the sap in a gift-wrapped rubber tree."

". . . business is about as brisk as a set of oak floor boards in a Lutheran church hall."

And on and on, page after dreary page.

Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,360 followers
September 1, 2017
Very good noir novel set in Nazi Germany. Kerr clearly knows the noir detective formula, and the setting is well-done. It feels immersive, not forced.
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
March 2, 2019
Like the Gestapo, I wear my hat differently from other men, with the brim lower in front than at the back. This has the effect of hiding my eyes of course, which makes it more difficult for people to recognize me. It's a style that originated with the Berlin Criminal Police, the Kripo, which is where I acquired it.

Hard to put down thriller, this was Philip Kerr's first of the 14 Bernie Gunther novels. That 14th, Metropolis, will be published posthumously this year.

Since this is the first I've read, I cannot speak to the series.

About this single book, I've only raves. There's a lot going on in Kerr's narrative. It's hard boiled (to some extent). His detective Bernie Gunther narrates the story. Sort of a tough-guy, flamboyant way of talking, he's fairly easily aroused to at least comment about a woman who arouses his male hormones, sometimes (only) winding up commenting about more intimate goings-on. He's also quite protective of women, and can feel strong emotions when one he knows is threatened.

This story takes place in Berlin in 1936. Most of it actually occurs during the Olympic Games in that city; and though the German "cleansing" of parts of Berlin (so as to suggest to foreign visitors that Germany is not so bad as they may have heard) is mentioned now and then, the games don't play a role in the story. (This despite the fact that one scene in the plot puts our detective deeply involved in a fact-finding talk with a woman, seated in the Reich Sports Field stadium as Jesse Owens is winning the 100 yard dash. Gunther takes time to describe the race before leaving:
Watching the tall, graceful negro accelerate down the track, making a mockery of crackpot theories of Aryan superiority, I thought that Owens was nothing so much as a Man, for whom other men were simply a painful embarrassment. To run like that was the meaning of the earth, and if ever there was a master-race, it was certainly not going to exclude someone like Jesse Owens. His victory drew a tremendous cheer from the German crowd, and I found it comforting that the only race they were shouting about was the one they had just seen. Perhaps, I thought, Germany did not want to go to war after all ... of the leaders of the Third Reich there was no sign.

No, Gunther is not a fan of the Third Reich or its leaders. He's getting by by keeping his head down. For example:

"Sometimes I think there must be more brass bands in Germany than there are motor-cars. This one struck up with The Great Elector's Cavalry March and set off at a lick toward the Brandenburger Tor. Everyone who was watching was getting in some arm exercise, so I hung back, pausing in a shop doorway to avoid having to join them."

And he doesn't turn away paying customers. Finding missing persons (alive or, often, dead) is good business in Berlin these days, and many of his customers are Jews. Neither will he turn down (as if he could) a lucrative contract with a person he despises. "Thousands of Kozis [Communists] had been arrested and sent to K Z [concentration] camps like Oranienburg, Columbia Haus, Dachau and Buchenwald. Putting two and two together, it suddenly came to me with a shock just who it was I was being taken to see." Hermann Goering, who has a proposition for the detective he's heard so much about.

The fictitious detective and his imaginative cases have this air of historic reality, representing, one supposes, a determined amount of research by Kerr into the state of Third Reich society and day-to-day living, especially in Berlin. The crime, the suspicion, the fear of authorities; the significant removal of women from the work force in the 30s, not only to provide jobs for men but to assign women to their place in the society of the Reich - that of caring for the family, and producing babies; the corruption inside the ruling institutions, the bickering and power struggles between the Gestapo and the SS.

It's all here, in the so-called noir detective novel. It's more than a James Bond thriller, it seems also historical fiction of a high order.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Previous review: The Woman in the Window
Next review: Mythology Edith Hamilton
Older review: Day of the Jackal

Previous library review: Basil Street Blues a memoir ... by Michael Holroyd
Next library review: Prussian Blue Bernie G #12
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,197 reviews116 followers
February 5, 2022
Great noir set in 1930's Berlin as national socialism tightens its grip around Germany's throat, with its insidious effects felt at every level of society and in all aspects of life. The atmosphere is rife with corruption, infighting and a pervasive paranoia as ambitious men seek to grab power by any means while others struggle just to survive. Kerr's prose is smooth, marked with occasional flashes of wit and a wistfulness for the merrier days of the past. Pacing is remarkably consistent. That's generally a good thing, though I found myself missing those parts of a detective novel that I often look forward to most, when the beaten down shamus has an chance for some raw self reflection and introspection.
Profile Image for Judith E.
572 reviews196 followers
December 22, 2020
A well done noir mystery taking place in Berlin during Hitler’s rise. Private investigator Bernie Gunther is hired by a steel magnate to solve the murder of his daughter and her husband. During the hunt, the reader gets a taste of what Berlin was like and encounters Himmler, Goering, the 1936 Olympics and Dachau. There is some humor throughout, interspersed with a robust use of similes such as, “his neck stood out like a turtle in a rented shell” and “he felt as bad as a dugout canoe”.

The Audible narrator was excellent.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,877 followers
March 12, 2012
The concierge was a snapper who was over the hill and down a disused a mine-shaft. Her hair was every bit as natural as parade goose-stepping down the Wilhelmstrasse, and she'd evidently been wearing a boxing-gove when she'd applied the crimson lipstick to her paperclip mouth. Her breasts were like the rear ends of a pair of dray horses at the the end of a long hard day. Maybe she still had a few clients, but I thought it was a better bet that I'd see a Jew at the front of a Nuremberg pork-butcher's queue. She stood in the doorway to her apartment, naked under the grubby towelling (sic?) robe which she left open, and lit a half-smoked cigarette.

"I'm looking for Neumann," I said, doing my level best to ignore the two coat-pegs and the Russian boyar's beard that were displayed for my benefit. You felt the twang and itch of syphilis in your tail just looking at her.

All of this description is for a woman who appears for a page and a half in the book, and most of those lines are dedicated to this flowery 'hard-boiled' prose.

That paragraph is a good example of why this is a three star book for me, even though the mystery and the story were good I just couldn't really get past all of the schlock. It's also why I find it very painful to watch most American movies from the 40's / 50's, my poor sensibilities are given too much a beating with canned stylized words.

Stylized shlock though has quite a bit of popularity. Just look for some of the words in bold on goodreads and you'll find more examples of the type of writing that makes me want to do an Oedipus to my eyes. It's phony. There is no soul (or whatever you want to call it), it's like automatic writing masked by a vague amount of cleverness (not much though because the cleverness is fairly obvious, but it's reassuring, I don't want to be reassured, being reassured is so boring).

I need to stop reading these mystery novels. There are parts I like about them, but too often they are making a part of me cower up and die.

I feel awful that I've used this book as a go to recommendation for people looking for a 'smart' mystery / thriller set in WWII or historical or something like that. It's not that it's bad, it's that it is so filled with cliches and the good parts are almost downed out by the incessant hard-boiled chatter.

I'm fucking tired of chatter. Ben Marcus come and take all of our language from us, just so I don't have to hear anymore of it.

All melodramatic nonsense aside, I think I'm going to give this genre a rest for awhile. I am interested in reading the new re-issues by Richard Stark coming out next month, and some more Lawrence Block but besides that I think my six month trek into the world of mystery novels has come pretty much to an end. I'm sure I'll go on it again sometime in the future, but for now I'm going to go back to the ghetto of literary fiction.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books569 followers
February 3, 2019
This is a solid start to what promises to be an engaging series! Bernie is quite the character, a caricature of his time in the setting of 1936 Berlin - sexist, blunt, definitely not PC. The story was good, but not great, with a few plot holes, but I didn't mind. I am a character-driven reader, and Bernie Gunther, with all his quirks delivered on that front. I also felt Kerr did a wonderful job of creating an almost palpable atmosphere of tension. I would definitely read another book in this series!

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Tim Orfanos.
345 reviews36 followers
February 20, 2020
Το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο αποτελεί την αφετηρία (1989) για την επιτυχία του πρόωρα 'χαμένου' Βρετανού συγγραφέα αστυνομικής λογοτεχνίας, Philipp Kerr, ο οποίος πέθανε, μόλις, πέρσι στα 62 του χρόνια. 'Οι βιολέτες του Μάρτη' αποτελούν το 1ο βιβλίο της 'Τριλογίας του Βερολίνου', το οποίο διαδραματίζεται στο Βερολίνο, λίγο πριν από τη διεξαγωγή των Ολυμπιακών Αγώνων του 1936. Σε αυτό το σημείο, αξίζει να αναφέρω ότι 'Η Τριλογία του Βερολίνου' θεωρείται από τα αριστουργήματα της Παγκόσμιας 'Νουάρ' Αστυνομικής Λογοτεχνίας με πολυάριθμα ιστορικά στοιχεία και πληροφορίες, τα οποία δικαιολογούν και την ιδιότητα του συγγραφέα της ως αρθρογράφου των Sunday Times, Evening Standard και Time out.

Ανεξάρτητα από όλα αυτά, όμως, κατά τη γνώμη μου όπως και πολλών, το συγκεκριμένο 1ο βιβλίο της 'Τριλογίας' είναι, ίσως, το πιο αδύναμο, αν και αρκετά ατμοσφαιρικό και μυστηριώδες. Αυτό παρατηρείται, κυρίως, στο 1ο μέρος που είναι αδικαιολόγητα βραδυφλεγές και στατικό, ενώ η πλοκή και η ουσία των γεγονότων παρουσιάζει μια τάση 'διασκορπισμού' και 'χαώδους' περιγραφικής διάθεσης από τη πλευρά του συγγραφέα, ο οποίος αρέσκεται να αναφέρει συχνά και με ψυχαναγκαστικό τρόπο τις ονομασίες των δρόμων του Βερολίνου, διχάζοντας τους αναγνώστες.

Ευτυχώς, όμως, από τη μέση του βιβλίου και μετά, η ιδιορρυθμία, όσο κ��ι το ανατρεπτικό χιούμορ του ήρωα-ντιτέκτιβ της 'Τριλογίας', Μπέρνχαρντ Γκούντερ είναι τόσο καταλυτικά που παρασύρουν τα πάντα στο πέρασμά τους μαζί και... κάποια πτώματα.

Οφείλω να τονίσω ότι εδώ ο Kerr αργεί αλλά επιτυγχάνει να μάς κάνει τη γνωριμία με ένα Βερολίνο απειλητικό, στοιχειωτικό, όπου σε κάθε γωνία του μπορεί να παραμονεύει ο κίνδυνος και ο αιφνιδιασμός, ενώ 'αποτυπώνει' εύστοχα το αρρωστημένο κλίμα και τις αιτίες που οδήγησαν στην εξουσία και στην καταστροφική πορεία της αλαζονείας το Γ' Ράιχ του Χίτλερ - κανένας σε αυτό το μυθιστόρημα δεν είναι αθώος ή αντικείμενο εκμετάλλευσης. Όλοι και όλα έχουν το τίμημά τους.

Ωστόσο, ένα είναι σίγουρο: o ντιτέκτιβ Μπέρνχαρντ Γκούντερ μένει αξέχαστος στους αναγνώστες, έστω και αν κανένας δεν μπορεί να ταυτιστεί με τη τάση του για τυχοδιωκτισμό.

Συνολική βαθμολογία: 3,9/5 ή 7,8/10.

Βαθμολογία απόδοσης της ατμόσφαιρας της εποχής: 4,3/5 ή 8,6/10.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,390 reviews115 followers
December 15, 2018
The late Philip Kerr is best known for his Berlin Noir series featuring Bernhard ‘Bernie’ Gunther. They are well-respected historical mysteries, taking place mostly in Berlin during the years just before, during and after WWII.

March Violets is the first of the Bernie Gunther novels and takes place in 1936—there is the lead-up to the Olympic Games, the star runner Jesse Owens, and Hitler consolidating power through his control of the SS and Gestapo. Throughout the novel are examples of the vicious anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and sexism that permeated the country at that time.

Bernie is hired by a wealthy businessman to track down a diamond necklace, but that is the least of it. There are murders, and arson that lead to some pretty dodgy places and ruthless people. This is definitely a dark novel featuring some lurid violence. Kerr’s writing is excellent—featuring a plenitude of dark sarcastic wit. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Andy.
428 reviews66 followers
September 7, 2019
The only library copy in our whole area & patiently Ive waited around 3 months for this book, hope its worthy as heard many good things about this series which Ive taken my sweet time getting around too..... been on my trl since 2014, although in my defence I’ve been working my way through other series of the era.

I was hooked in the first few chapters..... the era, the humour, the observational musings, the unfolding of the story, the scene setting, the character development..... it’s all sublime, totally what I enjoy about a novel.

How fickle am i?

Having found it fairly droll to start with and tearing through the opening chapters have to admit that after a while Gunther’s continual glibness (one-liners) wore me down, it was too much at times with the initial impact wearing off as it became virtually never ending (every thought, every sentence at times) which is a shame as the language used was authentic for the era & it’s almost like we're learning a new language with the slang. It was like the author had a million simile’s to cram into the book, all humourful no doubt but after a while they became a tad eye rolling when used at every juncture & situation...... why do I mention this, well a vast majority of the book centres on Bernie Gunther so if this style is not for you, you’ll struggle bigtime I think.

Did the glibness settle down? Even Herman Goering told him to reign it in at one point! I think it did.... or perhaps the mystery started coming together to cause a distraction from all the similes.

As to the story, it was grand, a whose who of 1935 Germany tumbled forth & was very enjoyable as Kerr namedropped here & there. The bit I did admire & alluded to earlier was the detail of the era both in location as well as language & culture, Kerr had obviously done his research & for that alone it’s worth a read, aficionados of the era will love it. Addendum - Forgot to add it was written with the backdrop of the Berlin Olympic games although they didnt have much impact on the story there were a few details added.

The mystery (hard boiled Noir) is solid, although at times it would appear that Gunther has a third eye in sniffing leads out where all (Police, Gestapo, SS) around have failed to follow the clues/trail, that aside its quite satisfying & we do come across a variety of characters to keep us amused. The tie up towards the end is quite clever & plausible.

A Sound 3.75 rounded upto 4 stars & i’ll be reading more of this series to see where the writing takes us, definitely will try & finish the original trilogy
Profile Image for Jenny.
1,760 reviews59 followers
April 30, 2018
March Violet is book one of the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr. Private detective Bernie Gunther was asked by Herr Doktor Hermann Six to find the murder of his daughter Grete and her husband Paul and to find his daughter's missing jewels. However, Bernie Gunther did not realise what he was getting into by accepting this case. The readers of March Violet will go on a roller coaster ride with Bernie Gunther to find out who killed Grete and Paul Pfarr.

March Violets is the first book I have read of Philip Kerr, and I love it. I believe that I enjoyed it because it was different. I like the way Philip Kerr portrayed his characters and intertwined them with each other. March Violets is well written and researched by Philip Kerr, and I remembered some of the characters from my history classes. Philip Kerr did a great job in entwining the twist and turns in the plot that ensured my engagement with the March Violets and I would read more books in this series.

The readers of March Violets will learn about being a private investigator in Berlin in 1936. "March Violets" highlight for the readers how people lived in Berlin in 1936.

I recommend this book.
Profile Image for John.
Author 341 books166 followers
April 25, 2011
This is the first of Kerr's series about ex-cop-turned-PI Bernie Gunther, here trying to solve a case (he's hired by a plutocrat to track down an expensive item of jewellery missing from the safe of the plutocrat's murdered daughter and son-in-law) while coping with the everyday horrors and bureaucratic complications of Nazism in pre-WWII Berlin.

A problem the novel has is that this latter aspect is often far more interesting, and far more effectively portrayed, than the noirish plot itself; I came away from the novel with a real sense that Nazism was soul-destroying in a far more wholesale manner than simply its policies of mass murder (barely getting into action by the time of this book), with not just the obvious victims of its viciousness being brutalized but also all the Germans who either obeyed mindlessly or -- the "March violets" of the title -- went along with the "disappearances" and other atrocities for reasons of terrified or mercenary self-interest.

A second difficulty is the writing style. Yes, it's refreshing that Kerr should put into Gunther's narration the kind of sardonic wisecracking similes that Raymond Chandler and other writers of the hardboiled era deployed to such spectacular effect, and sometimes it works. At other times, though, it becomes wearisome either because a particular simile stretches laboriously over two or three lines or simply because there have already been far too many similes over the past couple of pages.

Overall, then: moderately enjoyable, and in some places powerfully affecting. I read the novel bound up in an omnibus (Berlin Noir, 1993) with the next two in the series, and so was happy enough to keep reading. If I'd read it as a solo title, however, I'm not sure I'd have troubled to do so.
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,947 reviews201 followers
May 6, 2018
First, what were “March violets”? That was a slang term for opportunistic Germans who raced to jump on the Nazi bandwagon once Adolph Hitler came to power in March 1933.

Philip Kerr paints an eye-opening picture of Germany in 1936, with widespread corruption and terror. Berlin ex-cop-turned-private eye Bernhard Gunther is cynical, wisecracking and determined as his search for missing diamonds leads him into a number of other misdeeds — including some by the highest levels of the Third Reich. Needless to say, March violets play a big role.

Readers will love this gripping novel (also released as Berlin Noir) that introduces a fine series. I devoured it in just two days.
Profile Image for Toby.
836 reviews332 followers
August 17, 2012
This really is quite something. A homage to and an evolution of the classic noir detective novel in one.

This is a fabulously entertaining story of corruption and intrigue in Nazi Germany investigated by a strong and interesting character in Bernie Gunther. Throughout I was constantly imagining Bogart. As mentioned in a review of another noir recently, the Bogart test is a true gauge of how good a classic style noir is. And this one is very very good.

The case he was actually hired for was quite an obvious plot but all of the extra little bits of plot and story that you come to expect from the genre are abundant and excellent and even surprising in some instances. Most unusual is the lack of a strong dame however. Perhaps in a modern take on the genre it is unnecessary?

What amazed me the most was that there were many aspects of the book that irritated me, that I couldn't help to start to list as I read, yet still my enjoyment was not diminished. Despite the following points I feel that I enjoyed March Violets as much as it is possible to enjoy a novel of this genre.

So what's wrong? This is a piece of historical fiction and Phillip Kerr didn't manage to avoid the pitfalls of writing that particular sub-genre, at times he is so obviously educating the reader with entire paragraphs of historical explanation that didn't really seem essential and he couldn't help himself in setting the story during the Berlin Olympiad and having Bernie coincidentally turn up to the stadium to see Jessie Owens single handedly disprove the Aryan race-supreme beings theory. It's things like this that make a lot of readers feel smug for already knowing that tiny aspect of famous/popular history and so it's probably a requirement in Historical Fiction 101 or something, but to me it's always a weak moment of storytelling and removes you from the world of the narrative.

There's so many metaphors used in these 256 pages but for every metaphor there's 4 similies. This is a little bit like....nah I won't be that cliched. It's not cool, all of them are great lines but still when there's 4 per page you start to grow tired of it.

I'm very excited to know there's quite a large series of Bernie Gunther books on my bookcase waiting to be read, especially as Leah tells me they get better as Kerr gets in to the swing of writing them. Hooray for Bernie Gunther.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,732 followers
August 13, 2012
Marlowe among the Nazis. I enjoyed this book. Like Chandler and Hammett, Kerr can write a fast-paced, hard-hitting, rompy detective novel. Kerr just choses to set his hard-boiled noir right in the middle of Nazi Germany. Talk about a helluva-lot of femme fatale potential. Sometimes, Kerr's machine-gun-quick, funky, metaphors are almost too much. Easy Kerr, calm down, I've barely swallowed your last sentence and you are bashing me on the head with another over-the-top description of a Bavarian woman's ampleness. Four stars, because he got me. O.K., Herr Kerr, I'll read more.
Profile Image for Michael.
837 reviews615 followers
March 23, 2013
Bernie Gunther investigates the murder of the daughter of one of German’s wealthiest industrialists while the 1936 Summer Olympics play out in Berlin. Gunther is an ex-policeman that thought he had seen everything, but becoming a freelance Private Investigator has found him being sucked into the horrible excesses of Nazi subculture.

This is classic hard-boiled/noir fiction; it has the hard-hitting detective, a fast-paced plot and the everyday violence you come to expect. But this time that everyday violence comes in the forms of anti-Semitisms and the Nazi regime. The Nazi German backdrop is a great location for noir novel and makes for a whole cast of strong and interesting characters.

While the plot does need some polish, as it’s not a very strong crime plot, the interference from the Kripo and Gestapo did a great job of masking the flaws. March Violets reminds me a lot of Fatherland by Robert Harris with the concept but for me March Violets concept was much better just not as well executed.

The over used metaphors and attempts at humour really took away from the richly developed backdrop and while at times it did drag on a little, I really found myself enjoying this book. I’m not sure how well Philip Kerr researched this novel but the way he portrayed Nazi Germany felt right in my mind; the strong police state trying to play nice for the Olympic games and then the inability or unwillingness of ordinary Germans to try stop the crimes or injustices, while spending most of their time worrying about the coming war.

March Violets is the first in the Berlin Noir series and based on this book, I’m looking forward to reading the next two books. Not sure if I will continue the series after that but I will start with them. Bernie Gunther is a great protagonist with his hard hitting ways that seem like they will land him in a KZ (Konzentrationslager or Concentration camp). I’m glad I picked this book up, while there are some weak points, like I said before, they seem to be easily missed with everything else happening in this book. Well worth reading for pulp fans, it’s a fresh take on this genre.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/...
Profile Image for Mark.
1,372 reviews92 followers
August 24, 2014
The library finaly did come through and found me the copies of the first three novels of Philip Kerr concerning Bernie Gunther. Which made me a very happy person.

Marching violets refers to the folks who jumped on the Nazi bandwagon once it got rolling in 1933, they were not the original followers of Mr Hitler and his scary men but decided that they could get their own ambitions filled whatever they were.

It is 1936 and Bernie Gunther is no longer a policeman but a private eye and when this book begins he is getting drunk at his former secretary's wedding, and not behaving like a prince. Next he is in the home of a wealthy industrialist whose Daughter and husband got shot and then their home was burned to the ground. Bernie's mission is the retrieval of stolen goods and the identity of the murderer. This is something that would keep any PI busy enough but Bernie gets a second employer of the kind that does not take NO for an answer, Goering himself. And Goering wants somebody found preferable quietly and quickly. Bernie quickly finds that the truth in both cases is not as importance as how to spin a story.

Bernie wanders through the summer of the Berlin Olympics and shows the dark world of pre-WWII when Germany was in the hold of mad men and psychopaths working for the government. Where the Hitler favorites fight out their private feuds/wars in order to obtain more power. Kerr paints a bleak canvas that only should scare people and make them think about governments that gain total power over their citizens and how they would cope with it in order to survive.

The Bernie of this book still is not yet the later version who is far more interesting, the sexual descriptions in this novel where somewhat over the top and the description of a rape scene totally unnecessary it left me with a very unpleasant feeling. Which is perhaps the purpose but in my view added little, the bad guys were bad enough without the detailed description.

A good book still which leaves me ponder how I would have lived under the reign of such a monstrous regime.

Well worth your time
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,521 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.