A tour de force noir mystery, brimming with the social history and culture of several German-speaking regions and time periods. The several meanings of “Prussian Blue” are gradually revealed over the 500-some pages. But have no fear: The pace is lively.
Danger lurks. Dialog flows. Characters sparkle. In Prussian Blue Philip Kerr creates a multi-layered story by juxtaposing Bernie Gunther’s flights in two historic eras: 1939 and 1956. The 1956 Bernie has had ample time to reflect upon the social and political changes that have taken place in the intervening years.
In the 1939 plot, we see what Nazi top leadership is thinking and doing in Bavaria in an intense countdown to Hitler’s 50th birthday—just months before the Polish invasion. We see Germany and Germans, especially the growing number of corrupt officials, engineers and local townspeople fawning upon Hitler’s minions in Berchtesgaden. Many of these characters are real people, from real history, as Kerr indicates in an appendix.
Interspersed with the pre-war scenes of the late 30s are scenes dating from 1956, forming an intricate narrative counterpoint. This time, the heavies are the police and secret service of the GDR. Border areas, such as Saarland (returned to Germany in October, 1956), feature prominently, showing the divided loyalties of residents who have lived through frequent political tugs-of-war. In this turbulent place and time, Bernie finds himself in the crosshairs. Who will betray him?
Ultimately, though Bernie has aged and should be "wiser," he finds the institutionalized thuggery around him much the same. Ever more cynical, the aging policeman ponders whether it is possible to bring truth to power, and whether his moral compass has sunk to unredeemable depths.
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