And so my Year in Books reading project brings me to the city, where I shall be holidaying in July. 4 months early it is true but there is a multitudinous amount of fiction set here and the advance notice may allow me to make a dent in it. That city is Berlin.
Perhaps the title is a little misleading. March Violets may, at this time of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere) be lifting your spirits with thoughts of spring. And, while spring is a theme in this novel, it’s not an uplifting one because we’re talking about the early years of the National Socialist regime. A March Violet in the parlance being one of those who “climb on board the Party wagon and ride it to make a quick profit”. The irony underlying the whole novel is that Bernie Gunther, the private detective who left the police force because he couldn’t go with the flow, finds himself investigating the murder of a March Violet.
It’s no easy ride. The menace of life in 1930’s Berlin pervading the pages as injustice and brutality are depicted in unflinching detail. The social issues depicted in heartrending scenes as Jews, not yet incarcerated (or worse) try to feed themselves or escape by selling the family heirlooms – earning nothing but disdain and contempt from the March Violets who are making exorbitant profit from the misery of others. The German population itself not safe either – rich industrialists are forced to bend to the will of the Party, while less influential people simply disappear. Those left behind having no clue to the whys or wherefores. While we know Gunther will be OK – there are a further four novels to follow – he must still endure the worst.
The plot is tight; historical detail befittingly subduing. The only criticism I have concerns the language with which Kerr tries to outboil the hard-boiled. Far too many – oftentimes forced – similes aux Chandler, Cain & co. I don’t remember this being a problem when I read The One From The Other (Bernie Gunther Novel # 4) last year. So I shall assume that Kerr kerbs his excesses with experience – March Violets was his debut novel. I’ll not let it prevent me from completing the Berlin Noir trilogy. If fact, I look forward to it.
This sounds good – I rather like German books. Could I recommend Richard Zimler’s The Seventh Gate for a book steeped in Berlin and with a fine map telling you where all the action takes place.