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The One from the Other: A Bernie Gunther Novel


Fifteen years ago author Philip Kerr created the character of Bernie Gunther, a German detective in Nazi Germany. In quick succession, he produced three Chandleresque novels with this fascinating central character. Much awaited, this is the fourth, set just at war's end. Brilliantly plotted, it is also disconcertingly accurate in dramatizing the escape channels of fleeing Nazis and those who abetted them.


Excellent...stylish...a joy to read." -- Publishers Weekly

"Grim and gripping, with all the author's customary sure-handedness in evidence." -- Kirkus Reviews


Philip Kerr was born in Scotland in 1956 and lives in London with his wife and their three children. He is the author of 14 books (and 4 kids' books). The first 3 in this series are published by Penguin in one volume as Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem.


I reach Philip Kerr at home in London, where it's already Saturday afternoon. "Your hero is a surprise -- a Nazi-era German detective, a skeptic who dislikes the regime. But when the Nazis take power and absorb the police into the SS, he goes along initially. How did you come up with this risky, unusual hero?"

"I think it was a case almost of method acting. I was trying to project myself into the character. And as far as I could see, policemen who were opposed to the Nazis had little choice. If they resisted, they found themselves out in the street, or worse -- shot, imprisoned. It's a very tricky tightrope to walk for anyone with a strong sense of morality. And that was what I was interested in writing about: someone trying to remain true to himself, to morality and, at the same time, survive."

"You were born after the war, so you had no personal familiarity. Were there still echoes of it in England?"

"It was only ten years afterward and it was a defining moment in British history, so the echoes when I was a child were very loud."

"Was there rationing, bomb craters, that sort of thing?"

"No, no, there was nothing like that at all. You could have easily believed there never had been a war. No, I mean, the awareness was really to do with people, the things you read in the papers, and comic books full of British wartime adventures. The fiction being published was about the war as well, much more so than in America. I think that it never touched the Americans at home the way it affected British people. Although I didn't experience the war, it was certainly one of the most important influences in my growing up. Because there was so much of it around: talk about it, writing about it, pictures of it, movies."

"Did your agent Caradoc King, at A.P. Watt, talk you into it, or is your long-time editor in the States, Marian Wood, the person to be credited with your going back to writing a fourth Detective Gunther novel?"

"No, actually I think I'm the one. For years friends and colleagues have been saying, 'When are you going to write another one?' After a while I forgot why I stopped writing them. I think it had to do with my not wanting to fall into the trap of sticking with a [single] detective. It seems to me that after a while authors can start wearing their character like a rather old smelly dressing gown. You almost think they're too comfortable wearing it. I persuaded myself I should strike out a bit, take a few more risks, do something different. Then, as the years went by, I thought, well, it might be interesting to write another one, and write it from the point of view of an older detective who had come through the war and has quite a few skeletons in his cupboard. Rather than just bolt another plot on to the end of him."

"You're moving along through Bernie, through his history, quite rapidly. There are pretty big jumps in terms of Bernie Gunther's life, one novel to the next."

"That's true, but it's also very true of Germans of that generation. I think there are gaps."

"Do you speak German? Did you spend a lot of time in Germany?"

"I haven't spent a lot of time in Germany. I trained as a lawyer and I did a postgraduate degree in German law. Really it was an excuse to read philosophy, because I never felt I'd had much of an undergraduate education. And that led me to writing about the whole Nazi period."

"The details are so convincing. Are the streets correct; the nightclubs, were they there?"

"Oh, yes, basically. Rather than paint in broad brush strokes, I'd rather be like a painter who put in little spots of color that didn't mean much close up, but when you took a step or several steps back, you could see the picture. I think small things make big things."

"Were there any writers who inspired you?"

"[Raymond] Chandler and [Dashiell] Hammett. They're more spiritual influences. They're pretty much the only detective writers I've read. It seems to me they were novelists, not detective writers [per se]. I had a fun game with myself when I first started writing about Bernie Gunther. I thought, well, Chandler went to school in England, and then he went to live in Los Angeles. I'd ask myself, what kind of books would Chandler have written if he'd gone to live in Berlin instead of Los Angeles. So that was my kick off, my starting point. The great thing about Chandler is, you can taste and feel and smell the city of Los Angeles while you're reading. I set myself the near impossible task of doing the same with Berlin."

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