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Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

March Violets (Bernard Gunther #1)

March Violets - Philip Kerr

"March Violets" (Märzveilchen) was a term of derision used by the "Old Fighters" (Alte Kämpfer) to refer to those who "opportunistically" joined up with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (aka the Nazi Party) only after the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) was passed in March of 1933, which, effectively gave Chancellor Adolph Hitler unprecedented power over the people of the Reich (kind of a johnny-come-lately/n00b term of Nazi Germany).*


March 1933 Enabling Act at Reichstag


We meet our detective, Bernard "Bernie" Gunther, in a Berlin chock full of March Violets now well-practiced in their party loyalty after three years of the world of the Third Reich (if math isn't your strong suit, that means it's 1936). This is all a backdrop, however, to what is in most ways a classic noir detective novel — one in which stakes are higher, because a tussle with the wrong characters can easily land you among the faceless masses "gone missing," shipped off to a KZ (Konzentrationslager aka concentration camp). 


Gunther has managed to stay in the good graces of the powers that be as a former member of the Krippo (Bernie bowed out in 1933, unable to bear the changes that came with total Nazi power) and as a recipient of a Second-Class Iron Cross for his service in WWI. Nonetheless, the case handed to him (rich guys apparently love to kidnap PIs in limousines at odd hours regardless of place and time) has Bernie testing his luck, as he interferes with the rich, famous and powerful (which, to no one's surprise, involves high-ranking Nazi officials).


Author Philip Kerr makes good use of his chosen setting — the 1936 Summer Olympics have officials rushing to remove Neues Volk from magazine stands, and "Jews not wanted" signs taken down from popular tourist spots. Bernie even gets to witness the triumph of Jesse Owens, in a moment that leaves Berliners thinking only of one "race"- the one taking place on the track below. 


Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics


Kerr also makes a point of capturing some of the (at times stranger than fiction) quirks of the likes of Hermann Göring (who dashes off to down a handful of pink pills**). Kerr doesn't take lightly the gravity of what is going on in Berlin. It doesn't feel like a "clever twist," cast aside for the sake of the mystery. Rather, the environment becomes a character unto itself. I've heard this isn't the strongest of the Bernard Gunther collection, so I certainly plan to continue with the series. 



* Thanks Glossary of Nazi Germany (which is, apparently, a thing on Wikipedia — you learn something new every day).


** Göring showed up to Mondorf-les-Bains/Camp Ashcan with over twenty thousand tablets of what (after being sent to FBI labs for inspection) turned out to be a synthetic drug that "fills a gap between the codeine and morphine groups," paracodeine (a bit of info I learned about from Jack El-Hai's The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, pp. 11-12).


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