There’s always been a touch of Philip Marlowe to Philip Kerr’s, Bernie Gunther. After all, are there really any meaner streets for some men to walk down than Nazi Berlin? They’re both world-weary cynics with a good eye for the simile. That comparison is really played on by the setting of ‘The Other Side of Silence’. The idle rich of the post-war French Riviera are not far removed from the idle rich of Beverly Hills, except when Marlowe walks up the long driveway of a mansion he finds General Sternwood, Gunther meets no less than Somerset Maughan.
It’s 1956 and Gunther is working under a fake name as a hotel concierge in one of the finest hotels of the French Riviera. He was never a real Nazi, but is painfully aware that the authorities want him as such. When a real Nazi shows up the two men recognise each other instantly and thus begins a tale of blackmail, spy-craft, double cross, The Cambridge Five and the odd incidental murder. All of it centred around the great man of letters, Maughan. I’ll be honest, I’ve never read a biography of Maughan and only know the brief outline of his life, but Kerr does make him a most entertaining if catty figure.
It’s really hard to write about the ending of a novel without giving away massive spoilers, but suffice to say that when Gunther does what he does to save his neck, I was both carried along with it and not sure I really believed it. It was brilliant, but maybe too brilliant – so brilliant that I couldn’t help but wonder at the plausibility of him being able to pull it off. But such was the fun I had reading this book (and every Bernie Gunther story, to be fair) that I’m happy to forgive it. After all, it’s hard to bear a grudge when you’ve been so thoroughly entertained.
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