Metropolis is the fourteenth, and sadly, final book to feature Berlin Murder Commission detective Bernie Gunther. Final, because Bernie’s creator, Philip Kerr, died in 2018.
Bernie first appeared in print in March Violets, a novel set in the Nazi-controlled Third Reich of 1936, but Metropolis takes us back further in time, to 1928 and the Weimar Republic and Bernie’s first investigations for the Murder Commission since transferring from Vice.
It is a period of decadence in Berlin––perhaps most famously described by Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin, the inspiration for the musical Cabaret. Germany is a country still struggling with memories of its defeat in the First World War; only just emerging from a period of economic crisis and hyperinflation; with waring political factions clashing in the streets, and growing feelings of anti-Semitism as the far-right Nazi Party gains support. Prostitution is rife; seedy strip-clubs proliferate; and organised criminal rings operate without sanction.
It is into this moral vacuum that Bernie is asked to investigate two series of murders: the killing and scalping of four prostitutes; and the shooting of a number of disabled army veterans.
As readers familiar with Bernie’s career will already know, his investigative approach is not always orthodox and, whilst his own moral compass may not always be set entirely true, he rarely fails to see that justice––of a sort––wins through in the end.
It is sad to consider that this is the last appearance for a character who has accompanied me through a span of thirty-plus years of both real and fictional history.
Perhaps another author––given the necessary literary permissions––might take up Bernie’s story?
It feels as though the Weimar-years casebook has only just been opened.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow can’t do without a bit of Bernie.
You may also be interested to read Fergus’s blog article Bernie Gunther: Rogue Male