REVIEW: If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
I shrugged and said, ‘A German is a man who can feel enormously proud of being a German while wearing a pair of tight leather shorts. In other words, the whole idea is ridiculous. Does that answer your question?’
She smiled. ‘Hedda said you had to leave the police because you were a well-known Social Democrat.’
‘I don’t know about well known. If I had been well known, things would be different for me now, I guess. These days you recognize a man who was a prominent Social Democrat by the arrows on his pajamas.’
‘Do you miss being a policeman?’
I shook my head.
‘But you were a policeman for more than ten years. Did you always want to be a policemen?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. When I was a little boy I used to play cops and robbers on the green outside our apartment building and I wasn’t sure which I enjoyed being most: a cop or a robber. Anyway, I told my father that when I grew up I was probably going to be a cop or a robber, and he said, ‘Why not be like most cops and do both?’ I grinned. ‘He was a respectable man but he didn’t much like the police. No one did. I wouldn’t say we lived in a tough neighborhood but when I was growing up we still called a story with a happy ending an alibi.’
Bernie Gunther is a hard guy not to like, especially with that wicked tongue of his:
I threw away the cigarette. ‘Only things that really aren’t very funny, Mrs. Charalambides. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much everything these days. You see, I’m worried that if I don’t make jokes, then someone will mistake me for a Nazi. I mean, have you ever heard Hitler tell a joke? No, neither have I. Maybe I’d like him better if he did.’
She continued staring at the washing machine. It seemed she wasn’t ready to smile yet. She said, ‘You provoked him.’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t like fighting, Herr Gunther. I’m a pacifist.’
‘This is Germany, Mrs. Charalambides. Fighting is our favourite means of diplomacy, everyone knows that. But as it happens, I’m a pacifist, too. As a matter of fact, I was trying to turn the other cheek to that fellow, just like it says in the Bible, and, well, you saw what happened. I managed it twice before he actually managed to put a hand on me. After that I had no choice. According to the Bible, anyway. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. That’s anothering thing it says. So I did. I rendered him. Unconscious. Hell, no one likes violence less than me.’
She tried to keep her mouth steady but it wasn’t working now.
‘Besides,’ I added, ‘you can’t tell me that you didn’t want to hit him yourself.’
She laughed. ‘Well, all right, I did. He was a bastard and I’m glad you hit him. All right? But isn’t it dangerous? I mean, you could get into trouble. I wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble.’
‘I certainly don’t need your help for that, Mrs. Charalambides. I can manage it quite well on my own.’
Gunther’s charm and ability to deceive provide some comic relief during a scary and stolid time in history. In one scene, the author takes us to Grunewald Forest, where Nazi youths are harassing a group of homeless Jews. With a bit of slight of hand, Bernie brilliantly beguiles them into thinking that he’s a cop and that the homeless Jews are actually Gestapo agents in disguise. He says, “That’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years…To lie like you mean it. As long as you can convince yourself of something first, no matter how outrageous, there’s no telling what you can get away with these days.”
The novel is a well-crafted story, and all the loose ends tie up neatly. I was very impressed with the intelligent yet subtle way Kerr wrote the final part of the novel. He doesn’t go to great lengths to deceive. Instead, Kerr leaves enough breadcrumbs for the reader to figure out the ending before it’s revealed. It makes for a very satisfying resolution that’s true to Gunther’s characterization.