In choosing Ian Fleming as a hero of this site I compared him to such masters of genre fiction as Eric Ambler (James Bond’s favourite writer) and Raymond Chandler. One of Chandler’s contemporary heirs is Philip Kerr, whose Bernie Gunther trilogy transposed the detective novel to pre-war Berlin, as Bernie uncovered dreadful secrets against the even darker backdrop of the Nazi party in its pomp.
Now, in The One from the Other, the war is over but the world no less murky, as former Nazis mingle with new enemies in Allied-occupied Germany. Bernie is now in Munich, assisting in the post-war clean-up as his clients search for their lost relatives, lost property and lost morals. As with Chandler, the joy of the Bernie Gunther novels lies as much with the prose as with the plotting, in particular the way he introduces characters. Here are three of my favourite examples from The One from the Other: if you like these you’ll love the book.
“The man in the chair was heavyset with longish, fair hair and a beard you might have picked for an important chat with Moses. The moustaches were waxed and left his face like the quillions on a broadsword … On his feet were black Miesbacher shoes with a high heel and a fold-over tongue. They were the kind of shoes you wear when you want to slap someone wearing leather shorts.”
“If Heidi had grown up she might have looked something like the nurse of the man in the wheelchair … She was blonde, but not the sunny kind of blonde, or the gilded kind, but the enigmatic sulky kind you might fond lost in some sylvan glade. I tried not to notice her bosom. And then I tried again, only it kept singing to me like it was perched on a rock in the Rhine River and I was some poor, dumb sailor with an ear for music … Some women look more like nurses than others. And some women manage to make being a nurse look like Delilah’s last stratagem.”
“Being a detective I spotted Father Gotovina within a few seconds of going through the door. There were a lot of things that gave it away. The black suit, the black shirt, the crucifix hanging around his neck, the little white halo of his collar … The thick dark eyebrows were the only hair on his head. The skull looked like the rotating dome roof on the Gottingen Observatory and each lobeless ear resembled a demon’s wing … He had a mole on his left cheek that was the size and colour of a five-pfennig piece and walnut-brown eyes, like the walnut on the grip of a Walther PPK. If the Medici had still been siring popes, Father Gotovina would have been what one looked like.”