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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

The strangled by its plot, Kerr's March Violets is a good twist on the noir genre

Philip Kerr's March Violets concludes (although it doesn't really conclude; it's the first volume in a trilogy, Berlin Noir, and it apparently truly is a trilogy, with many strands left untied at the end of volume 1 - it's not just 3 novels about the same detective) with a voyage to the lower depths of depravity and evil, as the protagonist, Bernhard Gunther, gets picked up by the Gestapo and forced to become a prisoner at Dachau (the time is 1936 - the camps were not yet in full force) but actually working for the Gestopo, trying to get info from another prisoner - a safecracker - who'd deliberately had himself committed to Dachau because he knew that's the one place they wouldn't look for him (though what could be worse, honestly) - that's a plot element I've heard of or read recently, someone going to prison as the safest hideout, just can't remember where or when - in any event, yes, you could poke some holes in that plot development, but it gives Kerr the chance to show the apotheosis of the Nazi regime - all the goose stepping and saluting and patriotic blather leads to this. In same ways, though, the Dachau depiction is not as strong as the rest of the novel because it's so familiar to us, from movies and from first-hand accounts. The strength of the novel comes from Kerr's ability to show the life of ordinary German people, some horrible, some indifferent, none heroic, as the country goes down the road of fascism and racism - the street life is more revelatory than the prison camps. Like much detective fiction, March Violets gets strangled, by the end, by all the strands of the plot - I just plain could not keep all the people, all the twists, straight in my mind, even with the lengthy expositions that Kerr at times has to fall back on as a narrative lifesaver. I probably won't go further w/ this trilogy, but for fans of detective and crime fiction this is a pretty good twist on the noir genre and lingo, much of which you have to love: a snapper (prostitute), cement (prison), lighter (gun), and many more.

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