Since we lost my dad back in June, there are special little moments in life that I can only describe as bitter sweet.
With our shared bond of a love of books, I was thrilled to find that one of my favorite authors had shown up in the new book section at our neighborhood library.
My immediate thought was how excited my dad would be to know that Philip Kerr, one of the world’s greatest historical fiction writers, had just published “Metropolis.”
I checked out the book, and was sad as I realized I couldn’t share my treasure with him.
Then I started to read the inside of the book jacket, these words reinforced my own grief: “Metropolis, completed just before Philip Kerr’s untimely death…”
Even with TV and the internet, we live with permanent blinders on our consciousness, unaware of the tragedy and suffering of others. Even though he died in 2018, I still feel like I’ve lost a good friend.
And the world will be a poorer place from losing such an amazing writer.
Philip Kerr is the Michael Jordan of WWII detective stories.
He had an amazing knowledge of historical details that, combined with the darkness of those times, created complex noir characters who should be considered our first post-modern anti-heroes.
Kerr’s protagonist is a Berlin detective named Bernie Gunther whose story runs from 1928 to 1956. In addition to dealing with the human depravity he encounters as a vice detective, Gunther has to ride each political wave that rocks the country, trying to balance a sense of justice for his victims with the evil he must do to stay alive.
Kerr is one of those writers whose writing is so perfect, I will just quote three sentences from the prologue.
On page 1, after noting that people during that time compared the depravity of Berlin during the Weimar Republic to the biblical city of Babylon, Gunther remembers his childhood:
“At the Lutheran St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin where I used to go with my parents as a small boy, our brick-faced, shout pastor, Dr. Rotpfad, seemed so familiar with Babylon and its topography that I believed he must once have lived there.”
On page 2, Gunther reflects on the city’s tacit approval of all the wild behavior in this modern-day target of God’s wrath:
“But in truth, with so many dead in the Great War and the flue that came immediately after, which, like some Old Testament plague, killed millions more, it hardly seemed important to worry about what people put up their noses or what they did when they got undressed in their dark Biedermeier bedrooms.”
On page 5, he ends the prologue with the observation that international politics wields more power than God:
“It wasn’t in anyone’s interest — not the French, nor the British, and certainly not the Russians — to see Berlin and, by extension, Germany, become the subject of divine apocalyptic vengeance.”
My love for the richness and depth in Kerr’s writing is what I imagine Opera lovers feel when they listen to recordings of Luciano Pavarotti.
The literary world was blessed to receive fourteen Bernie Gunther novels, but we’ll never get the chance to know what other treasures might have been locked away in Kerr’s brain.
I’ll miss him, just like I miss the man who introduced me to this great author.