Book bag – Philip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther series, tip of the hat to Craig Johnson


If you are an addicted reader, then you have experienced the let down of finishing the final book by an author of a series of books you really love. If the author is still alive, you can hope that more books are coming. If they have passed to the office of the big edior in the sky, then no more are coming.  There are series that I keep on my shelf and reread several ltimes. Rex Stout wrote a long series of detective stories featuring Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin.  W.E.B. Griffin wrote his US Army series stretching from 1945 to past the end of the Viet Nam War with stops in occupied Germany, Greece (1948), Algeria, Korea, Congo, and revealed the struggles between the corporate bureacritized Army and the US Air Force in the development of armed helicopters. He also wrote an excellent series about the US marine Corps that started in China just before World War II.  I can’t say I like anywhere near as well his detective series and his contemporary intelligence covert op novels.  I have reread his Army series, the first four novels at least 8 times.

Rereading a favourite book is like sitting down for a long conversation with an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile.

Other series, Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic War naval books.

Adam Hall and his series about his spy Quiller.

The Quiller novels as by Adam Hall (AH is the pen name used by Elleston Trevor, you may know him for The Flight of the Phoenix)

There is a narrative trick that Trevor (Hall) uses in the Quiller stories which I have rarely seen used, but he uses it brilliantly.  He puts Quiller in a situation where he is facing death and there is seemingly no way out.  The chapter ends.  You turn the page and begin the next chapter and find Quiller alive and running and the timeline of the novel has jumped ahead thirty minutes or an hour.  And then after a few pages, Trevor brings us back to explain how the heck the spy got out of the kill zone.  A fresh way of using plot tension and release.  Very clever technique.

Not a series but mostly set in and around World War II, novels by Alan Furst.

Goodreads.com recommended to me the author Philip Kerr who specializes in thrillers set before during and after World War II.  To make it work you need to let goodreads know some books you have read and liked.  From that data and from other reader’s likes, it suggest authors you might like. no cost to use goodreads.com

Today began reading further in the second Philip Kerr novel from the library, Hitler’s Peace.  Not the same snappy narration as from Bernie Gunther. Of the Gunther series I have read just one, The Quiet Flame.  It runs in two time tracks: Berlin 1932 as Berlin Homicide Detective Bernie Gunther does is best to do his work as the Nazis struggle to win control of the government, and 1950 as Bernie Gunther who is trying to survive in the political/police power plays in Argentina. Sorry to have repeated my oft committed error of starting a thriller series with a continuing main character in mid stream rather than with the first book and following through.  Kerr, went to law school.  Got a masters degree.  Worked as a copywriter for Saatchi and Saatchi.  Started writing full time in 1989.  He was born in 1959. He has written a popular series of children’s books as well.

I am not sure I would want to immerse myself in the horrific details of the Third Reich to write these novels.  But Kerr’s Gunther series is one of two thriller character series that I have been blessed to find this past year. The other is the Walt Longmire books by Craig Johnson.  The draw for me in these books is their settings, the plot and characters, and the protagonist narrator.  Sometimes when I read thrillers I find the protagonist narrator is unsympathetic, uninteresting, or too thinly drawn.  That is absolutely not true about these two.

So go get some of these books, and put your summer feet up and read.

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Author: William J. Gibson

62 year old - writer/photographer Canadian, survived open heart surgery, received kidney transplant, sometimes dour, sometimes amusing, over six feet in height, severely follicle challemged

2 thoughts on “Book bag – Philip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther series, tip of the hat to Craig Johnson”

  1. Hi Bill – I know just what you mean about the relationship we build up with a great series. I started the Nero Wolfe series while I was in grade school and had finished it by the time I was out of High School and can still remember my disappointment. Never hear of Adam Hall and now, thanks to you, I’ll take a look (and start at the beginning as well..). Two suggestions: John D. MacDonald’s Travis MacGee series set in Florida in the 60s/70s is a pretty brilliant take on the detective genre; and an Irish writer, Ken Bruen, whose Jack Taylor series is another marvellously witty and dark and intensely verbal (it’s Irish) brand of crime/detective novels. (I’ve read the first four of these and love them. Check any author/series on Wikipedia before starting so you can get the order right (assuming your library has them. (I now mostly listen to books – because of my commutes).

    1. thanks read all the Travis McGee, and read almost all of Ken Bruen as well. If you get stuck for a new author, spend a few minutes telling goodreads.com what you liked and they will come back with some solid recommendations

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