Berlin Noir: The Brilliant Novels of Philip Kerr

Nancy Bilyeau
9 min readSep 27, 2021

The Bernie Gunther series sets a high mark for historical thrillers

Philip Kerr

A group of watercolor landscapes went on sale at a German auction house, supposedly the work of a young and impoverished Adolf Hitler while he was struggling as an artist in Vienna. The paintings, along with a Fuhrer armchair decorated with a swastika, failed to find a single buyer, but not necessarily because people were repulsed.

There is, distressingly, a thriving market in Hitler — and Nazi — memorabilia. This particular lot, though, were widely dismissed as fakes. Artwork authenticity aside, the existence of the auction caused considerable embarrassment.

At first glance, it might seem as if a series of mystery novels featuring a German detective during the Nazis’ rise to power, World War II, and Europe’s postwar recovery might very well land in the category of tasteless as well.

That would be a serious mistake.

The fourteen Bernie Gunther novels written by Philip Kerr offer not only first-rate mystery plotting, atmospheric prose, and witty dialogue but also philosophical insights into the nature of ambition, loyalty, and identity.

Kerr was born in Edinburgh on Feb. 22, 1956. He gained a master’s degree in law and philosophy from the University of Birmingham…



Nancy Bilyeau

Passionate about history, pop culture, the perfect bagel. Author of 5 historical novels. Latest book: ‘The Orchid Hour'