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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

If the Dead Rise Not

Philip Kerr

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To purchase If the Dead Rise Not

Title: If the Dead Rise Not
Author: Philip Kerr
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 437 pages
Availability: If the Dead Rise Not - US
If the Dead Rise Not - UK
If the Dead Rise Not - Canada
Die Adlon Verschwörung - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid thriller, with good voice and good pacing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 2/10/2009 Rebecca Armstrong
The LA Times . 20/3/2010 Paula L. Woods
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/3/2010 Marilyn Stasio
The Telegraph . 3/11/2009 Toby Clements
The Washington Post . 22/3/2010 Kevin Allman

  From the Reviews:
  • "In documenting the turning tides, Kerr's period detail is utterly convincing. The way he captures a lost Berlin on the brink of cataclysmic change is in turns poignant and gritty. (...) (A) sophisticated thriller that brings the war and its aftermath to life." - Rebecca Armstrong, The Independent

  • "Among this novel's many strengths is how Kerr manages to impart so much information without letting it get in the way of a fast-moving plot: He is also very good at showing us Bernie's sardonic wit and the burgeoning love affair between him and Noreen. Even when the story jumps about 20 years -- in the process skipping over other books in the series -- and lands in 1954 Havana with an older (but not necessarily wiser) Bernie, Noreen and Reles, Kerr is still in total control of his story, managing his characters, complex plot and intersections among assorted Nazis and communists, dictators and American gangsters with equal aplomb." - Paula L. Woods, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A) solid addition to the great crime novels that make up the Berlin Noir trilogy" - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Perhaps, like his hero, the author has become just too world weary and flabby, because for the first part of this one (...) you find yourself crying, "enough already!" I get it that the Nazis were bad, I get it that Bernie doesn’t like them. It is not only that this is unsophisticated, it is actively unsettling, because you have to stop yourself reacting against it and cheering on the Nazis. Otherwise, it has an unsurprising plot well disguised by the atmosphere of time and place, and spiced up by some productive research (...) and a run of lovely slangy descriptions" - Toby Clements, The Telegraph

  • "The book ends with an extended section set 20 years later, in pre-Castro Havana, where Gunther and several of the characters are reunited for a second denouement -- one that adds some interesting detail but ultimately weakens the main story; it feels like a separate novella." - Kevin Allman, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       If the Dead Rise Not is yet another novel featuring Bernie Gunther, a character Kerr has returned to repeatedly, beginning with the still unsurpassed Berlin Noir-trilogy that introduced him. The bulk of this installment is set in a Berlin gearing up for the Olympics, in 1934; at this time Bernie, no longer with the increasingly Nazified police, is the house detective at the fancy Hotel Adlon. The last third of the novel then jumps some two decades ahead, to 1954 Havana, which is where Bernie moved on to after the Argentine adventures of A Quiet Flame. (Yes, all the back and forth can get annoying, but Kerr presents the material -- and fills in the in-between blanks -- well enough for this not to be much more than mildly irritating in this particular volume.)
       Whether in 1934 or 1954, Bernie is world-weary and cynical. He tries to maneuver in a corrupt society -- whether Nazi Germany or Batista's Cuba -- without compromising himself (too much), but knows that idealism won't get him very far ("I had principles, sure, but I also had all my teeth"). And here, in both cases, he also has to deal with corrupt business practices: in Berlin it's Avery Brundage's cohorts, benefitting from the massive construction necessary to put on the games; in Havana, it's Meyer Lansky and others who run the casinos and nightlife (with Batista getting his generous cut). Not surprisingly, Bernie isn't the only character who pops up in both places .....
       The novel begins with Bernie slugging a policeman who wants to question him about someone they'd both heard insult Hitler. Bernie slugs him way too hard, but he also takes off pretty fast; still, the possibility that he can be identified as the man who hit the cop -- and the very serious consequences that would have -- hang over him for quite a while.
       Bernie soon has a body to deal with in the hotel. It looks like the man died of natural causes, but the more Bernie considers the case, the more likely he thinks it is that it's murder. Meanwhile, there's also the annoying German-American businessman, Max Reles, a hotel guest who reports that a valuable item had been stolen from his room, a Ming dynasty lacquer box.
       Bernie is, of course, too good at his job, and as he noses around makes a variety of discoveries and connections that repeatedly land him in trouble -- of increasingly serious sort. Meanwhile, however, he also catches the eye of an American journalist, Noreen Charalambides, an American author who wants to write about local conditions, to convince Americans that they shouldn't participate in the Olympics.
       There's also that increasingly problematic Jewish-identity issue. Jews have been getting purged from the police and other professions for a while now, and things are getting worse and worse. Bernie is advised to scrub his own background -- he has some Jewish blood in there -- while Jewish Noreen can only get away with her muckraking because she is a foreigner. Other characters also have a Jewish background that they try their damnedest to hide or cover-up, and it turns out to be an Achilles' heel for more than one of them.
       Meanwhile, with the construction boom going on the building sites can't be entirely picky, and some Jewish workers are hired -- even though it's strictly not allowed -- something that can be pretty safely ignored, until one of them turns up dead and Bernie starts connecting the dots .....
       Max Reles is an agreeably awful villain, and Kerr weaves a fairly interesting and clever crime-story around the historical facts of the times. The pacing is very good, Bernie's tone just right, and the romantic angle -- yes, Bernie and Noreen hook up -- well-handled. Surprisingly, the jump to 1954 works quite well, too. Among those Bernie encounters there is Noreen again (saddled now with a way-too-wild daughter), currently living in Ernest Hemingway's house -- a bit too convenient, but also handled reasonably well.
       Here, too, Bernie finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place (and a harder place ...) soon enough -- just when he's managed to swing a job that will let him finally return to Germany, too. But he should know better; indeed he does:

     At the end of the day, optimism is nothing more than a naive and ill-informed hope.
       One of Bernie's problems is that he does appear to be an impartial man of principle, and that he's very good at what he does. He attracts too much attention for his own good -- indeed, in Havana, everyone seems to want to hire him, in one capacity or another, just when he thinks he can escape their clutches.
       There's one key big reveal in the novel that is too predictable -- and that Bernie himself doesn't immediately reveal once he learns it, which undermines his otherwise so agreeably straightforward narrative (all the more annoying because it's so obvious to the reader anyway, since the math involved is almost unavoidable). Otherwise, however, If the Dead Rise Not is a well-paced, solid thriller, consistently well-written, with Kerr getting Bernie's voice down just right. A nice addition to the series.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 May 2010

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If the Dead Rise Not: Reviews: Philip Kerr: Other books by Philip Kerr under review: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       Prolific British author Philip Kerr (1956-2018) is best known for his Bernie Gunther-series.

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