This thriller offers a definite cut above the average mystery with its fascinating setting and masterful writing. A German Requiem is set in Berlin in the ruins of World War Two as the black market and prostitution jostle with soldiers and buildings in rubble. The book doesn't give long descriptive passages of the surroundings but weaves the feel of the destroyed city throughout the plot, with the action switching to Vienna as the mystery deepens.
- an ex-policeman, ex-SS officer and ex-Russian POW, now a private investigator
- has been hired to find the true killer of an American soldier. The man in custody didn't kill the soldier, although he was involved in war crimes that Bernie witnessed. Bernie is persuaded to try to find out what really happened and travels to Vienna to unravel the mystery. However, there are more and more layers, and he finds himself uncovering significant information about the fates of some of the major war criminals. Bernie's safety, and that of the people who help him, becomes more and more at risk as the complexities of the situation become apparent.
Philip Kerr's writing style is excellent, painting vivid pictures without being wordy, with touches of humor in the midst of some very dark storytelling. Kerr's understanding of German nature and of the feelings of the German people in Berlin, in danger from the Russians and not really seeing a future, ring true. This is an atmospheric novel in the Raymond Chandler mold with a complex plot; characterization is good for Bernie, but not so much for the other people in the story.
Still, the reader is carried along with Bernie as he discovers the dark secrets that the new powers in Germany hold and as the Russian hold on Berlin tightens.
Two previous books feature Bernie, but it's unnecessary to have read them to appreciate this novel. It is an excellent story, particularly because of the masterful way in which post-war Germany and Austria are described.