Friday, January 27, 2012

The Nazis

My descent into crime fiction started with Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy.  That got me back into reading about WW2 Europe, an old friend in a way, long neglected for the American Civil War (who proved a fickle and ultimately faithless mistress.  Or perhaps it was I who was unfaithful.  In any case, I am totally off the ACW as far as reading goes.). 

I lost track of Kerr, and his weary survivor Bernie Gunther after A Quiet Flame, which was set in Argentina, and a little too fantastically dark for me.  But I see now that there are more and I might pick him up again since I quite enjoyed Bernie's tight-rope walk of solving crimes for the bad guys.
Of course, Berlin during the war has a weird fascination.  I tried David Downing's Zoo Station, but the idea of a British journalist somehow solving crimes in the heart of Nazi Berlin didn't spark much although I see that he's written more with the same fellow, each involving a different station.  There seems to be a niche for the Nazi-era-investigator-who-is-acceptable-to-the-bad-guys-but-harbors-resistence-in-his-heart.  It worked with Gunther, perhaps because his timeline goes well beyond the war.  Maybe Downing's fellow works too, but I haven't stuck around to find out.  I'm not sure that the line between collaborator and resister is all that fine, and after a while it just becomes hard to believe.

I also read several of Alan Furst's novels, which are quite well written, and take place all over war-time Europe with lots of intrigue and moral dilemma and much darkness.  I fell off of that bandwagon because his protagonists all seemed vaguely too good to be true - mostly single, male, a bit world-weary and of course cynical, but ultimately doing the right thing, staying just this side of romantic.  I'm lumping wildly here, and it's been several years since I read any of these.  (Note: but I might have to check him out again, having just found his website with all these terrific period pictures right at the intro.  Still, it's loaded with cookies or something that my computer is balking about.)  But after a while, WW2 just gets completely wrapped in its cliches, and one wonders if anyone can write anything really original set in this era. 

Kerr's novels go well beyond the war, and of course Joseph Kanon's The Good German is all about immediate post-war Berlin.  But it features yet another uencumbered-except-by-Allied-good-sense protagonist, and while the setting is compelling - how did anyone pick up the pieces after that? - I find myself not really caring that much anymore.  It is pretty telling that I have little recollection of most of these fellows.  The Arms-Maker of Berlin, by Dan Fesperman, pretty much ended my affair with this era, since it committed the unpardonable sin of not only trafficking in pretty much every WW2/Nazi-era Berlin cliche possible, but also of adding a layer of modern academia in the form of the rumpled, unencumbered, present-day history professor protagonist.  That just cut a little too close to home.

Culinarily, there is absolutely no inspiration from the Nazis.

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