“The One from the Other” is book 4 of what began as a well-known set of books called the Berlin Noir Trilogy, which Philip Kerr wrote 1989-1991.
The books center on Bernie Gunther, a private detective in Germany. All three books plunge us into involved murder mysteries, which are good enough on their own. Then you add the historical context, with all of these things happening in Nazi Germany in the background, and the books become (at least to me) utterly fascinating.
We first meet Gunther in “March Violets,” as the 1936 Summer Olympics are underway in Berlin. Then comes “The Pale Criminal,” set in 1938 as war looms. Then we jump ahead to 1947, to post-war Vienna, where Gunther tries to free a friend accused of murdering an American officer in a city divided between the Allies and the Russians (the “Ivans”). All three books are murder mysteries.
After 1991, Philip Kerr wrote a number of other books. But in 2006, he returned to the saga of Bernie Gunther, and has now written five more Gunther mysteries (“Prague Fatale” is due in October 2011).
“The One from the Other” occurs during 1949, amidst the complicated politics of Allied and Russian occupation, German reconstruction, and the continuing war trials. Gunther is asked to find a woman’s husband, whom she admits was a sadistic war criminal, to confirm whether or not he is dead. But nothing is simple in post-war Europe, with all kinds of groups competing for influence, spoils, survival, and power.
The plot is quite complicated, though you don’t realize it until you’re far into the book and discover that everything that seemed straightforward is actually a whole lot more complex than you thought. Gunther encounters SS war criminals on the run, shady Americans, and Israeli death squads. He gets beat up, he gets deceived and used–not at all an invincible hero type–and yet he finds a way. Put him in an American context, and he could be Philip Marlowe.
The ending is quite unexpected, and yet everything is wrapped up neatly. The ending also made me want to immediately begin reading the next book, “A Quiet Flame,” which finds Gunther in South America. That should be interesting.