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In Memoriam – Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are a treat. Over the past decade, having avidly read the first three from the 1990s, I have awaited each annual publication date of a new episode as a cherished benchmark in my year. His latest, Greeks Bearing Gifts, came out earlier this month and I resisted reading it until I had a long weekend. The writing is compelling, often very witty and the settings – in Nazi Germany or 1950s Europe – are rich (but never excessively so) in granular detail. Better still is the narrative with its anti-hero of sorts, the melancholic ex-cop, Bernie Gunther. Bernie is more rounded than Philip Marlowe but no less sardonic. You feel for him.

Greeks Bearing Gifts is Kerr’s first to venture into the illegal trade in archaeological antiquities. It is a screen for dealing in gold stolen from Thessaloniki’s Jewish community and arms trading across the Mediterranean. Like all Kerr’s books, this one rips along; the Grecian sun infuses the Odyssean detection with a luminous texture. It is glorious, irreverent towards the Greeks and not a little disturbing about the compromises made by the then EEC (fore-runner of the EU) to sweep Nazi criminals under the carpet. A thin thread, one of so many is a faint echo of today’s problems between Germany and Greece. A real page-turner….

I sighed on finishing it. Went to Philip Kerr’s website to pinpoint my next treat and discovered to my horror that he died on 23 March, aged 62. Such a great loss. His writing is up there with the very best, and wedded to plots imbued with suspense as well as humour. Suddenly a colourful window on a world I faintly remember has closed.

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