Sadly, this is the last of the 14 novels to feature the delightfully cynical German detective Bernie Gunther, as Kerr died last year, aged just 62 — but it is a magnificent tribute to both character and author... This enthralling portrait of the decadence of Weimar Berlin, seen through the eyes of a young Gunther, is quite wonderful.
this 14th adventure presents a bittersweet experience — Metropolis is every bit as vivid and pungent as anything Kerr ever wrote, but we read knowing that it will be our last moment in the company of Bernie Gunther — unless we start reading the books again from March Violets onwards. And that’s not a bad idea.
The Berlin of Metropolis is that which was evoked by Christopher Isherwood in the Sally Bowles stories. There the comparison ends. Where Isherwood wrote beautifully and sparely, Kerr doesn’t leave a fact in the library or an opinion unexpressed. Perhaps the most preposterous scene in the novel is when Gunther interviews a murdered girl, which may be a first for crime fiction. When he tells her that she was killed near to where a few years earlier a serial killer chopped up his victims, she remarks: “Bastards. If you ask me, all men are bastards.” At this, I’m afraid, I laughed, which was surely not the reaction Kerr hoped for. Readers unfamiliar with his earlier books should start with them.
Metropolis, the last Gunther novel, begins in 1928 with Gunther working in the Berlin police vice department and lodging with four wonderfully drawn Christopher Isherwood types, including a writer and a musician/escort. A veteran of the Great War, Gunther is the perfect world-weary investigator for the glittering, doomed demi-monde of Weimar Berlin... Wonderfully plotted, with elegant prose, witty dialogue, homages to German Expressionism and a strong emotional charge, this is a bittersweet ending to a superb series.
Berlin itself is the real protagonist. ‘The city was like a large ship,’ Bernie thinks, ‘that had slipped its mooring and was slowly drifting further and further away from the coast of Germany.’ It’s not a place for the fainthearted, either, especially after dark: ‘There is something about all that neon light at night that seems to bleach out a man’s spirit.’
Metropolis is a fitting swan song for this intelligent and always thought-provoking series. At its heart is a melancholy irony. Chaotic and dangerous though the Weimar capital is, we readers know, as Bernie doesn’t, that far worse is in store for Berlin.
Once again we are reminded of how wonderful were Kerr and his creation, the German detective Gunther. Metropolis takes Gunther back to 1928, when he has just joined the Berlin Murder Commission. He hunts down a serial murderer who scalps prostitutes; he pretends to be a down-and-out invalided-out soldier to trap the killer of such unfortunates and has a generally louche good time. The meticulous research, the hallmark of Kerr novels, is ever present as he shows the Weimar Republic — with all its decadent art and racy nightlife — weakening under the growing pressure of the Nazi Party. Kerr and Gunther will be much missed.
Metropolis, the last book Kerr finished, returns his memorable antihero to his early days as a policeman in Weimar-era Berlin. Recently seconded to the homicide squad, Bernie is investigating a series of savage killings of prostitutes when the deaths of several disabled war veterans, shot by an unknown gunman as they begged in the streets, distract him... Like the original trilogy in which Bernie appeared, this is a more conventional crime novel than the later books, but it is told in the unique voice that Kerr’s admirers will happily recognise.