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The title refers to the color of the German uniform that Bernie is manuevered into wearing. As he says, you can get down in the dirt but the gray doesn’t necessarily show it. And in the dirt is where the story exists.
This is by far the most complex of the Gunther stories as it shifts forward and backward in time with portions happening in 1933, 1940, 1946 and 1954 – though not sequentially. Bernie’s a little ‘unstuck in time’, explaining events in the past to interrogators in his present and the story and the action moves around from Cuba to Paris, to New York, to Berlin, back to Paris – well, you get the idea. It is a time of great fluidity with shifting aliances and politics and subterfuges. I must admit that I sometimes had a difficult time keeping up with the settings or the time periods as the chapters flipped from Berlin in 1954 to Berlin in 1946 and back to 1954, to Paris in 1940 - - - - .
Bernie is still the cynic’s cynic’:”Sometimes the future seems a little dark and frightening, but the past is even worse. My past most of all.” Who wouldn’t feel like that if one’s survived the trenches of The Great War, the terrors and horrors of Nazism, war in Germany and Russia, a Russian POW camp and interrogation at the hands of the CIA and Army – let alone working for Meyer Lansky. At one point, Bernie mentions that he was born in 1896. Think of what someone born in Germany would have seen by 1954!
Still, requiring more work to stay up with the story or not, the writing is superb. “Sandberger grinned. Probably he meant well, but it felt like seeing something unpleasant and atavistic toward the end of a séance. Evil flickering on and off like a faulty lightbulb.” Surely, Kerr is one of the foremost practitioners of the Chandlerian style of hard-boiled writing and he never disappoints. Nor does Bernie.--JB
Philip Kerr delivers a novel with the noir sensibility of Raymond Chandler, the realpolitik of vintage John le Carré, and the dark moral vision of Graham Greene.
"Bernie Gunther is the most antiheroic of antiheroes in this gripping, offbeat thriller. It's the story of his struggle to preserve what's left of his humanity, and his life, in a world where the moral bandwidth is narrow, satanic evil at one end, cynical expediency at the other."
-Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War
"A thriller that will challenge preconceptions and stimulate the little grey cells."
-The Times (London), selecting Field Gray as a Thriller of the Year
"Part of the allure of these novels is that Bernie is such an interesting creation, a Chandleresque knight errant caught in insane historical surroundings. Bernie walks down streets so mean that nobody can stay alive and remain truly clean."
-John Powers, Fresh Air (NPR)
Bernie on Bernie: I didn't like Bernhard Gunther very much. He was cynical and world-weary and hardly had a good word to say about anyone, least of all himself. He'd had a pretty tough war . . . and done quite a few things of which he wasn't proud. . . . It had been no picnic for him since then either; it didn't seem to matter where he spread life's tartan rug, there was always a turd on the grass.
Striding across Europe through the killing fields of three decades-from riot-torn Berlin in 1931 to Adenauer's Germany in 1954, awash in duplicitous "allies" busily undermining one another-Field Gray reveals a world based on expediency, where the ends justify the means and no one can be trusted. It brings us a hero who is sardonic, tough- talking, and cynical, but who does have a rough sense of humor and a rougher sense of right and wrong. He's Bernie Gunther. He drinks too much and smokes excessively and is somewhat overweight (but a Russian prisoner-of-war camp will take care of those bad habits). He's Bernie Gunther-a brave man, because when there is nothing left to lose, honor rules.
About the Author
Philip Kerr is the author of many novels, but perhaps most important are the five featuring Bernie GuntherA Quiet Flame, The One from the Other, and the Berlin Noir trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem). He lives in London and Cornwall, England, with his family.