Review – “Metropolis” by Philip Kerr
This finale of a novel takes us back to the beginning of the Bernie Gunther saga and year 1928 and paints an unforgettable portrait of Weimar Berlin ten years after World War I and five years before the Nazis seize control. The scars are still red and angry; Berlin is now a metropolis of grotesqueries. This is the milieu which incubated the Nazi party. It is also a Germany where some very good Germans who happened to be Jewish continued to be good Germans despite the rising scorn and casual dismissiveness.
Philip Kerr is a master of the telling metaphor and the snappy dialogue. But this final novel goes beyond the noir police story; it is the testament of a dying author, a committed social democrat, and a believer in the tenets of democratic citizenship in a shared polity rooted in justice.
In a plot of many twists and a wrenching climax, the big questions are posed by dramatic example: means versus ends, justice flowing from legality versus the rough justice of the streets, how to avenge horrible wrongs, the “justice” of imposing punishments upon the guilty outside of legal process. This is Kerr’s legacy and it’s worth taking some time to ponder about these verities as the reader works through the final chapters of this page-turning crime novel.
And the novel speaks to our own time. The nationalist points of view expressed by Donald Trump and other latter-day rabble rousers, the selfish justifications of today’s reactionaries, and the street-appealing populist rants are flipped to the other side by Kerr. The reader will find Bernie Gunther eloquently making the case for government and social democracy in the language of a Berlin street cop. There’s a way back from the crushing defeat experienced by Germany in 1918 and that haunts the streets of Berlin 1928, but the Germans unfortunately took the wrong path. An unforgettable portrait of Berlin before the deluge.
review by Paul A. Myers