Perhaps you’re an admirer of Raymond Chandler, and a friend recommends the work of Philip Kerr.
Kerr’s latest mystery, “The Lady From Zagreb,” continues the adventures of Bernie Gunther, homicide detective.
Much in the manner of Philip Marlowe — Chandler’s Los Angeles private investigator in a series that includes “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye” — Gunther describes his latest assignment with world-weary fatigue and the occasional vivid simile.
“I lit a cigarette … to help overcome the omnipresent taste of mass murder and human decay that stayed in my mouth like an old and rotten tooth,” Gunther says early in his story.
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Gunther shares with the reader his low regard for his colleagues. What’s jarring, however, is that Gunther doesn’t work in Los Angeles, but in 1940s Berlin.
As a former homicide investigator, Gunther now is a member of the intelligence division of the World War II security empire led by Nazi strongman Heinrich Himmler. One colleague with whom Gunther exchanges wry remarks is Arthur Nebe, who — a quick jump online confirms — was a Berlin police administrator and another actual war criminal.
“I prefer to take the view that painting these people as out-and-out monsters kind of lets them off the hook,” Kerr said recently.
“We can forget that they were men — often clever, eloquent and sometimes very charming men — but I like to try to get under their skins. I think the best way of doing that is to deal with them as human beings instead of judging them immediately as monsters. That is not to diminish the monstrosity of what they did; it serves to understand the enormity of the crime.”
Although Chandler routinely is associated with Los Angeles today, he grew up in England and received his education there, Kerr said.
“I had always wondered what kind of detective Chandler might have written about if instead of going to Los Angeles he had gone to live in Berlin,” Kerr said.
“Poor Chandler — the worst characters he could write about were corrupt district attorneys or guys who ran casinos. I am fortunate in being able to write about a similar array of characters against the background of the crime of the century.”
Kerr speaks at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 12, at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. For more info, go to RainyDayBooks.com.
Anyone preparing to send a check to the federal government this week might be interested in Steve Berry’s latest thriller, “The Patriot Threat.”
Its plot turns on the 16th Amendment, which enshrined the federal income tax, taking effect in 1913. Eventually the required number of states ratified the amendment, but not without some apparently dodgy paperwork. Twenty-two states approved the amendment with changes in its wording, Berry said recently. Some states listed as having ratified the amendment did so in murky fashion.
“The Tennessee Senate rejected it,” said Berry, a trial lawyer for 30 years. “And the governor vetoed it.” And yet Tennessee was among the states listed as ratifying the amendment.
Cotton Malone, Berry’s retired federal intelligence agent, is asked to track down a wayward North Korean official who, armed with Treasury Department files, aims to undermine confidence in the federal government’s viability.
On Friday, Berry will lead a continuing legal education seminar at the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association conference center at Two Pershing Square, 2300 Main St. One topic title: “Some Surprises From the U.S. Constitution.”
The seminar begins at 2 p.m. Area lawyers interested in attending can call 816-474-4322.