The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

Reviewed by Richard Goldman
Hardcover April 2016

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Starting in 1989 with March Violets we were introduced to former cop and now PI Bernie Gunther, eking out a living in the pre-war Berlin of 1936. His specialty is missing persons and believe me there are plenty of those in Germany run by the Nazis. A year later we were treated to a second helping of Bernie in The Pale Criminal, set in 1938. By the following year the trilogy was complete with A German Requiem which jumped to 1947 and showed us a much changed Bernie who had returned to a very much changed and defeated Germany after several years in a Russian POW camp.

I had always loved this trilogy feeling that it closed a powerful story arc that began in the heady days of Nazi victory and wound up in the most terrible of defeats with a number of lessons in it about survival and adaptability. Plus, Bernie was a great character: wry, self-aware, frequently funny in a bit of black-humored way. The three books are available in one volume entitled Berlin Noir.

For many years that's all the Bernie story there was. Then, in 2006 Kerr picked up Bernie's story with The One from the Other. Set in 1949 is carried Bernie further in to the pos-war world. Since then every year or so we've gotten another chapter which filled in more of Bernie's history between 1938 and 1947 or carried his story further into the post-war world. In many cases, the books did both.

With The Other Side of Silence we've come to 1956 where we find Bernie working as a concierge at a luxurious hotel in Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera. Although trying to live a simple life under an assumed name (see earlier books for a full explanation) he's soon drawn into a blackmail plot that involved Somerset Maugham as the victim and a former Nazi of Bernie's acquaintance as the blackmailer. Kerr deftly mixes fact and fiction both in the present day story as well as the flashbacks that provide an important chapter in Bernie's life near the end of the war. In the present the simple blackmail soon escalates into a major security crisis for the British involving the notorious spies Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean as well as others perhaps not yet identified as Soviet agents.

On the flashback side we learn about Bernie's time in Konigsburg in East Prussia just before the city fell to the Russians as well as the terrible tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustoff, a ship filled with refugees from the city sunk by a Russian submarine leading to the deaths of upwards of 9,000 people; the largest loss of life in any maritime disaster in history.

Clever plotting, historical accuracy and a way with dialogue keep this book humming along as Kerr maneuvers Bernie through another deadly set of adversaries. Can't wait for the next chapter.