Last March I was saddened by the news that British novelist Philip Kerr passed away from bladder cancer. Famous for his Bernie Gunther series of historical detective thrillers set during World War II and the Cold War, even though I hadn’t read any of his books, considering my reading interests I figured it was just a matter of time before I did. A few weeks ago at the public library I found myself in the mood for a little fiction, preferably something for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. While strolling along the shelves I noticed my library possessed what looked like the whole Bernie Gunther series. Not knowing where to begin, and needing something to read set in what’s now the Czech Republic I grabbed a copy of Prague Fatale. Looks like I made the right decision because for the most I enjoyed Kerr’s historical whodunit and I now I wanna read more books in this series.
In the fall of 1941 Bernie Gunther, much to his relief has escaped the SS killing fields of the Eastern Front and is back to work as a police detective in Berlin solving murders. Just as Gunther’s diving into his latest case he’s been ordered to Prague by the newly appointed Reichsprotector of Czechoslovakia Reinhard Heydrich to serve as his personal bodyguard. Because he’s a rising star in the Nazi firmament, and already survived one attempt on his life Heydrich wants Gunther on his staff to make sure he’s not assassinated by a jealous fellow Nazi. One night to celebrate his new appointment Heydrich throws a big shindig and invites a houseful of high level SS officers. But when one of Heydrich’s staff members is found dead in his room the next morning with the door and windows bolted from the inside Gunther is tasked with solving his murder.
This was my first experience with the locked-room mystery subgenre and I must say I enjoyed it. My only knock on Prague Fatale is a minor one, in that the novel’s initial quick pace slowed down considerably around the half-way point, but fortunately picked up later on. Also, I found myself wondering just how plausible it could be for Gunther to have such strong anti-Nazi attitudes given the degree so many Germans bought into the official ideology and world view. The cynical side of me thinks Kerr just cast the novel’s heroic protagonist as a “good German” in order to make him a more likable character. But all that aside, I’ll be reading more books from this series.