ABOUT BERNIE GUNTHER
He’s sardonic, tough-talking, and cynical, but he does have a rough sense of humor and a rougher sense of right and wrong. Partly that’s because he is a true Berliner. Partly it’s the result of life experiences. He was a sergeant in the Great War (like Hitler, winning a Second-Class Iron Cross, but, as he says, “most of the first-class medals were awarded to men in cemeteries”). His wife died in the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 and he’s had a roving eye for women ever since, but not much luck in long-term relationships – it’s hard to have long-term relationships in Nazi Germany when people keep disappearing. Yet that’s good for business, because he’s a private investigator, and a lot of his cases have involved tracing missing persons. And by extension, murder.
He served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin’s criminal police) and saw just about every form of deviance, corruption, and gratuitous violence before he jumped ship in ’33, when the National Socialists took over and began purging the force of all non-party members. He was a Kriminalinspektor with a serious reputation before he quit, and he never lost the contacts he made. They have been useful in his new, private role.
He’s Bernie Gunther. He drinks too much, smokes excessively, and is somewhat overweight (but a Russian prisoner of war camp will take care of those bad habits). He’s a hero for our time just as he was in these thrillers. Beginning in Germany in the thirties, the seven Gunther novels have reached beyond the horrors of the Nazi regime, when the lunatics were running the asylum, through the viciousness of the Eastern Front, to the postwar world of starvation and exploitation, and on to the Cold War’s double dealing and ruthless disregard for morality or human life. Bernie is an equal-opportunity hater: the Ivans, the Frogs, the Brits, the Amis, and certainly the Krauts-because he’s seen them all in action and knows the blackness of their souls.
He’s also a brave man, because when there is nothing left to lose, honor rules.