My Book Notes: Greeks Bearing Gifts, 2018 (Bernie Gunther # 13) by Philip Kerr

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Marian Wood Books/Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 2782 KB. Print length: 522 pages. ASIN: B0755Z97TP.  eISBN: 978-0-69841-314-6.

9780698413146Opening Paragraph: There was a murderous wind raging through the streets of Munich when I went to work that night. It was one of those cold, dry Bavarian winds that blow up from the Alps with an edge like a new razor blade and make you wish you lived somewhere warmer, or owned a better overcoat, or at least had a job that didn’t require you to hit the clock at six p.m. I’d pulled enough late shifts when I’d been a cop with the Murder Commission in Berlin so I should have been used to bluish fingers and cold feet, not to mention lack of sleep and the crappy pay. On such nights a busy city hospital is no place for a man to find himself doomed to work as a porter right through until dawn. He should be sitting by the fire in a cozy beer hall with a foaming mug of white beer in front of him, while his woman waits at home, a picture of connubial fidelity, weaving a shroud and plotting to sweeten his coffee with something a little more lethal than an extra spoonful of sugar.

Book Description: Munich, 1956 1957. Bernie Gunther has a new name, a chip on his shoulder, and a dead-end career when an old friend arrives to repay a debt and encourages “Christoph Ganz” to take a job as a claims adjuster in a major German insurance company with a client in Athens, Greece. Under the cover of his new identity, Bernie begins to investigate a claim by Siegfried Witzel, a brutish former Wehrmacht soldier who served in Greece during the war. Witzel’s claimed losses are large , and, even worse, they may be the stolen spoils of Greek Jews deported to Auschwitz. But when Bernie tries to confront Witzel, he finds that someone else has gotten to him first, leaving a corpse in his place. Enter Lieutenant Leventis, who recognizes in this case the highly grotesque style of a killer he investigated during the height of the war. Back then, a young Leventis suspected an S.S. officer whose connection to the German government made him untouchable. He’s kept that man’s name in his memory all these years, waiting for his second chance at justice … Working together, Leventis and Bernie hope to put their cases–new and old–to bed. But there’s a much more sinister truth to acknowledge: A killer has returned to Athens … one who may have never left.

My Take: Chronologically the story unfolds after the events narrated in Prussian Blue at the end of 1956. In early January 1957 Bernie Gunther finds himself in Munich working as mortuary attendant at Schwabing Hospital, concealing his true identity as Christoph Ganz. However, he is recognised by a corrupt policeman called Schramma, who, under the pretext of doing him a favour, makes him an offer he can’t reject for fear of having his identity discovered. The offer entails covering Scharmma’s backs to help him steal a certain amount of money. The money was offered by a potential donor to Max Merten, a local lawyer known to Gunther, who wishes to get into politics and thus finance a new party. But Merten suspects the donor’s bona fide and finds out that, in reality, it’s part of an operation designed to discredit him and the people who support him. In the split second that Schramma shoots and kills the two people who were in the house were they went to steal the money, Gunther also fears for his life and succeeds to lock Schramma in the wine cellar where he shot them. Next, he visits Max Merten to give him the money and draws up a plan to prevent Scharmma from accusing them of what happened. In appreciation, Merten gets him a new job more in line with his qualifications.

“Munich RE is the largest firm in Germany. A friend of mine, Philipp Dietrich, is head of their claims adjustment department. It so happens he’s looking for a new claims investigator. An adjustor. And it strikes me you’d be very good at that.” “It’s true I know plenty about risks–I’ve been taking them all my life–but I know nothing about insurance, except that I don’t have any.” “Claims adjustor’ is just a polite way of describing someone who’s paid to find out if people are lying. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what you used to do at the Alex? You were a seeker after the truth, were you not? You were good at it, too, if memory serves.” “Best leave those memories alone. If you don’t mind. They belonged to a man with a different name.”

From then on, the story takes a new turn, when Gunter/Ganz is sent to Greece  to investigate the circumstances surrounding the total loss of a vessel insured by Munich Re.

Like I say, it’s a routine matter, more or lees. A German vessel, the Doris, was lost off the coast of Greece after catching fire. We have a local man, Achilles Garlopis, who knows about ships and who will do most of the actual donkeywork, of course. And Dietrich will tell you what else has to be done, in detail. But we do urgently need someone to go down there to check out a few things –such as if the owner has appointed his own general average adjustor, if we’re looking at an actual total loss or a constructive total loss –to ensure that everything proceeds smoothly and according to our own guidelines, and to authorize any expenditure, of course, pending a final settlement. Someone trustworthy. Someone German.”

As you all know, Philip Kerr passed away untimely last year while working in the proofs of his last novel, Metropolis (Bernie Gunther # 14), that will go on sale next April 14, and before the publication of Greeks Bearing Gifts, the book that I’m bringing here today. We have not only lost a solid storyteller and an excellent writer, but someone with a unique voice as it is the case of his character Bernie Gunther. I have not yet had the chance to read all the books in the series, but I hope to do it soon. Personally, I really like the mixture of historical events and fiction that Kerr introduces in his stories, what gives them a new and very interesting dimension. On this case, after an initial adventure, Gunther arrives in Greece for what should be a routine assignment. I would not want to add anything else for you to discover by yourselves. Suffice is to say that the story will recall us the horrors committed by Nazi Germany during their occupation of Greece and, more specifically, the total annihilation of the Jews, mostly of Sephardic origin, from Salonica, also called Thessalonica. We will find as well continuous references to Greek mythology, after all, the title of the novel is taken from the episode of the Trojan horse, as narrated by Homer in his epic poem The Iliad. I can not fail to point out the philosophical observations to which Philip Kerr has accustomed us to through the musings of Bernie Gunther, and to highlight as well some references to the first steps that were being taken at the time, towards the construction of a future united Europe. For all this I think that it is a novel that it is well worth reading at times like this, when the future of Europe is being questioned. I am convinced that Philip Kerr, through his stories, wanted to remind us of our most recent history, to help us avoid making the same mistakes of our recent past. Before ending I would like to note the homage to Chandler in the opening paragraph. “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” (Red Wind). Highly recommended.

My Rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

Greeks Bearing Gifts has been reviewed at The View from the Blue House, Crime Time, Reviewing the Evidence, Crime Fiction Lover, Crime Review, and Shots Crime & Thriller Ezine among others.

About the Author: Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh in 1956 and read Law at university. Having learned nothing as an undergraduate lawyer he stayed on as postgraduate and read Law and Philosophy, most of this German, which was when and where he first became interested in German twentieth century history and, in particular, the Nazis. Following university he worked as a copywriter at a number of advertising agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, during which time he wrote no advertising slogans of any note. He spent most of his time in advertising researching an idea he’d had for a novel about a Berlin-based policeman, in 1936. And following several trips to Germany – and a great deal of walking around the mean streets of Berlin – his first novel, March Violets, was published in 1989 and introduced the world to Bernie Gunther. ‘I loved Berlin before the wall came down; I’m pretty fond of the place now, but back then it was perhaps the most atmospheric city on earth. Having a dark, not to say black sense of humour myself, it’s always been somewhere I feel very comfortable.’ Having left advertising behind, Kerr worked for the London Evening Standard and produced two more novels featuring Bernie Gunther: The Pale Criminal (1990) and A German Requiem (1991). These were published as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir in 1992. Thinking he might like to write something else, he did and published a host of other novels before returning to Bernie Gunther after a gap of sixteen years, with The One from the Other (2007). Says Kerr, ‘I never intended to leave such a large gap between Book 3 and Book 4; a lot of other stuff just got in the way; and I feel kind of lucky that people are still as interested in this guy as I am. If anything I’m more interested in him now than I was back in the day.’ Two more novels followed, A Quiet Flame (2008) and If the Dead Rise Not (2009), winner of the CWA Historical Dagger. Field Gray (2010) is perhaps his most ambitious novel yet that features Bernie Gunther. Crossing a span of more than twenty years, it takes Bernie from Cuba, to New York, to Landsberg Prison in Germany where he vividly describes a story that covers his time in Paris, Toulouse, Minsk, Konigsberg, and his life as a German POW in Soviet Russia. The next novels in the series are Prague Fatale (2011);  A Man Without Breath (2013); The Lady from Zagreb (2015); The Other Side of Silence (2016); Prussian Blue (2017); Greeks Bearing Gifts (2018) published posthumously; and Metropolis (2019) scheduled for release in April 2019. As P.B.Kerr, Kerr is also the author of the popular ‘Children of the Lamp’ series. Sadly, Phillip Kerr died far too young on 23 March 2018. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature shortly before his death.

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series includes the following titles: March Violets (1989); The Pale Criminal (1990); A German Requiem (1991); The One from the Other (2006); A Quiet Flame (2008; If the Dead Rise Not (2009); Field Grey (2010); Prague Fatale (2011); A Man Without Breath (2013); The Lady from Zagreb (2015); The Other Side of Silence (2016); Prussian Blue; Greeks Bearing Gifts (2018); and Metropolis (2019). It would be advisable to read them in order of publication, but always read first The Other Side of Silence, before Prussian Blue. And perhaps A Man Without Breath, prior to The Lady From Zagreb. Anyway, please take my opinion with a pinch of salt since I have not follow any order.

Quercus publicity page

Penguin Random House publicity page

Philip Kerr Website 

Bernie Gunther fan site

A Send-off Full of Gratitude


Los Griegos que traen regalos (Greeks Bearing Gifts) de Philip Kerr

Párrafo inicial: Había un viento asesino en las calles de Munich cuando fui a trabajar esa noche. Era uno de esos vientos bávaros fríos y secos que soplan desde los Alpes que cortan como una hoja de afeitar nueva y te hacen desear vivir en un lugar más cálido, o tener un mejor abrigo, o tener al menos un trabajo que no te exija golpear el despertador a las seis de la tarde Había hecho suficientes turnos de noche cuando era policía en la Unidad de Delitos de Berlín, así que debería haberme acostumbrado a los dedos azulados y los pies fríos, por no mencionar la falta de sueño y la paga patética. En esas noches, un ajetreado hospital urbano no es lugar para que un hombre se encuentre condenado a trabajar como portero hasta el amanecer. Debería estar sentado junto al fuego en una acogedora cervecería acompañado de una espumosa jarra de cerveza de trigo frente a él, mientras su mujer le espera en casa, imagen de fidelidad conyugal, tejiendo una tela y tramando endulzar su café con algo más letal que una cucharada extra de azúcar. (Mi traducción libre)

Descripción del libro: Munich, 1956 1957. Bernie Gunther tiene un nombre nuevo, culpa a todo el mundo por su situación y una carrera en punto muerto cuando un viejo amigo llega para saldar una deuda y anima a “Christoph Ganz” a aceptar un trabajo como perito en una importante compañía de seguros alemana con un cliente en Atenas, Grecia. Al amparo de su nueva identidad, Bernie comienza a investigar la reclamación de Siegfried Witzel, un salvaje antiguo soldado de la Wehrmacht que sirvió en Grecia durante la guerra. Las pérdidas reclamadas por Witzel son enormes y, lo que es peor, pueden ser el botín robado a los judíos griegos deportados a Auschwitz. Pero cuando Bernie intenta enfrentarse a Witzel, descubre que alguien más se le ha adelantado, dejando un cadáver en su lugar. Aparece el teniente Leventis, que reconoce en este caso el tremendamente grotesco estilo de un asesino al que investigó en pleno apogeo de la guerra. En aquel entonces, un joven Leventis sospechaba de un oficial de las S.S. cuya relación con el gobierno alemán lo hacía intocable. Ha mantenido el nombre de ese hombre en su memoria todos estos años, esperando por su segunda oportunidad para hacer justicia … Trabajando juntos, Leventis y Bernie esperan enterrar definitivamente sus casos, el nuevo y el viejo. Pero hay que admitir una verdad mucho más siniestra: Un asesino ha regresado a Atenas … uno que quizá nunca se haya marchado.

Mi opinión
: Cronológicamente, la historia se desarrolla después de los eventos narrados en Prussian Blue a fines de 1956. A principios de enero de 1957, Bernie Gunther se encuentra en Munich trabajando como asistente de la funeraria en el Hospital Schwabing, ocultando su verdadera identidad como Christoph Ganz. Sin embargo, es reconocido por un policía corrupto llamado Schramma, quien, bajo el pretexto de hacerle un favor, le hace una oferta que no puede rechazar por temor a que se descubra su identidad. La oferta implica cubrir las espaldas de Scharmma para ayudarlo a robar una cierta cantidad de dinero. El dinero fue ofrecido por un potencial donante a Max Merten, un abogado local conocido por Gunther, que desea dedicarse a la política y así financiar un nuevo partido. Pero Merten sospecha la buena fe del donante y descubre que, en realidad, es parte de una operación diseñada para desacreditarlo a él y a las personas que lo apoyan. En la fracción de segundo en que Schramma dispara y mata a las dos personas que estaban en la casa donde fueron a robar el dinero, Gunther también teme por su vida y logra encerrar a Schramma en la bodega donde los disparó. Luego, visita a Max Merten para darle el dinero y elabora un plan para evitar que Scharmma los acuse de lo ocurrido. En agradecimiento, Merten le consigue un nuevo trabajo más acorde con sus cualificaciones.

“Munich RE es la empresa más grande de Alemania. Un amigo mío, Philipp Dietrich, es jefe de su departamento de liquidación de siniestros. Resulta que está buscando un nuevo investigador de siniestros. Un perito. Y me parece que será muy bueno en eso “.” Es cierto que conozco mucho sobre riesgos, los he estado tomando toda mi vida, pero no sé nada sobre seguros, excepto que no tengo ninguno “. “Perito de siniestros” es solo una forma educada de describir a alguien a quien se le paga por averiguar si la gente está mintiendo. Corríjame si me equivoco, pero ¿no es eso lo que solía hacer en Alex? Iba tras la verdad, ¿no es cierto? Era bueno en eso, además, si no me falla la memoria.” “Mejor deje esos recuerdos en paz. Si no le importa. Pertenecían a un hombre con un nombre diferente.”

A partir de entonces, la historia toma un nuevo giro, cuando Gunter/Ganz es enviado a Grecia para investigar las circunstancias que rodearon la pérdida total de un buque asegurado por Munich Re.

“Como digo, se trata de una cuestión más o menos rutinaria. Un barco alemán, el Doris, desapareció cerca de la costa griega tras incendiarse. Tenemos a nuestro hombre local, Aquiles Garlopis, que sabe de barcos y que, por supuesto, hará la mayor parte del trabajo duro. Y Dietrich le pondrá al corriente en detalle sobre lo que debe hacer. Pero necesitamos urgentemente que alguien vaya allí para examinar algunos detalles, como que el propietario haya designado a un experto tasador en averia gruesa, si nos encontramos ante una pérdida total efectiva o una pérdida considerada como total, para garantizar que todo marcha sin contratiempo alguno y de acuerdo con nuestras propias directrices, y para autorizar cualquier gasto, por supuesto, en espera de la liquidación final. Alguien de confianza. Alguien alemán.”

Como todos ustedes saben, Philip Kerr falleció prematuramente el año pasado mientras trabajaba en las galeradas de su última novela, Metropolis (Bernie Gunther #14), que saldrá a la venta el próximo 14 de abril, y antes de la publicación de Greeks Bearing Gifts, el libro que estoy trayendo aquí hoy. No solo hemos perdido un narrador sólido y un excelente escritor, sino a alguien con una voz única, como es el caso de su personaje Bernie Gunther. Todavía no he tenido la oportunidad de leer todos los libros de la serie, pero espero hacerlo pronto. Personalmente, me gusta mucho la mezcla de sucesos históricos y de ficción que Kerr introduce en sus historias, lo que les da una dimensión nueva y muy interesante. En este caso, después de una aventura inicial, Gunther llega a Grecia para lo que debería ser una tarea rutinaria. No me gustaría añadir nada más para que lo descubran ustedes mismos. Basta con decir que la historia nos recordará los horrores cometidos por la Alemania nazi durante la ocupación de Grecia y, más específicamente, la aniquilación total de los judíos, en su mayoría de origen sefardí, de Salónica, también llamada Tesalónica. Encontraremos también referencias continuas a la mitología griega, después de todo, el título de la novela está tomado del episodio del caballo de Troya, como lo narró Homero en su poema épico La Ilíada. No puedo dejar de señalar también las observaciones filosóficas a las que Philip Kerr nos ha acostumbrado a través de las reflexiones de Bernie Gunther, y también resaltar algunas referencias a los primeros pasos que se estaban dando en ese momento, hacia la construcción de una futura Europea unida. Por todo esto, creo que es una novela que vale la pena leer en momentos como este, cuando se cuestiona el futuro de Europa. Estoy convencido de que Philip Kerr, a través de sus relatos, quiso recordarnos nuestra historia más reciente, para ayudarnos a evitar cometer los mismos errores de nuestro pasado reciente. Antes de terminar me gustaría destacar el homenaje a Chandler en el párrafo inicial: “Soplaba un viento del desierto esa noche. Era uno de esos vientos de Santa Ana secos y cálidos que bajaban por los puertos de montaña y te rizaban el cabello y te hacían saltar los nervios y te picaba la piel. En noches así, cada fiesta en la que se bebe termina en una pelea. Las dóciles esposas comrpueban el filo del cuchillo de trinchar y estudian el cuello de sus maridos. Cualquier cosa puede pasar. Incluso puedes conseguir que te sirvan un vaso lleno de cerveza en un cocktail bar.” (Viento Rojo) Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Phlip Kerr (Edimburgo, 1956 – Londres, 2018), estudió en la Universidad de Birmingham y obtuvo un máster en leyes en 1980; trabajó como redactor publicitario antes de consagrarse definitivamente a la escritura en 1989 iniciando una serie de thrillers históricos ambientados en la Alemania nazi. Es uno de los escritores de novela policiaca más aclamados de las últimas décadas. Fue el creador de la serie sobre la Alemania nazi protagonizada por el memorable Bernie Gunther, compuesta por los siguientes títulos: Violetas de marzo (March Violets, 1989), Pálido criminal (The Pale Criminal, 1990), Réquiem alemán (A German Requiem, 1991),  Unos por otros (The One From the Other, 2006), Una llama misteriosa (A Quiet Flame, 2008), Si los muertos no resucitan (If The Dead Rise Not, 2009), Gris de campaña (Field Grey, 2010), Praga mortal (Prague Fatale, 2011), Un hombre sin aliento (A Man Without Breath, 2011), La dama de Zagreb (The Lady from Zagreb, 2015), El otro lado del silencio (The other side of silence, 2016), Azul de Prusia (Prussian Blue, 2017), Greeks Bearing Gifts (2018), todavía no publicada en español y Metropolis (2019).

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