Monday, October 05, 2009


The second part in an interview with prize winning crime writer Philip Kerr.

4] What was the original inspiration for March Violets, the first Bernie Gunther novel? Did you make Bernie a tough guy to appeal to women readers?

The original inspiration was not Raymond Chandler as a lot of people think, but Gorky Park. And I made Bernie a tough guy to appeal to myself. But I'm from a pretty tough part of Edinburgh and I am told I can be quite threatening. The window cleaner is terrified of me. I speak nicely, with received pronunciation but that's just to hide the Easterhouse thug I really am. Underneath my smooth exterior I am really a gangster. I think I would have made a very good gangster, quite frankly. Teddy Bass? Don Logan? I could shit them both.

[I think many people will be surprised that the original inspiration was not Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. I can't recall much about Gorky Park, and wonder if it featured as much black humour and sharp one liners as the Gunther novels?]

5] There is a 16- year gap between the third Gunther novel A German Requiem and number four The One From The Other. Did the rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial play a part in your decision to bring Bernie out of retirement?
[I might have rephrased this question if I had read at that time the complete book including the Cuban section of the story which features Meyer Lansky, hardly a character likely to reduce anti-Semitism.]

Not in the slightest. I always intended to bring him back. It's just that in the beginning I didn't want to get into that cookie cutter kind of writing in which you just write the same novel again and again and again. I wanted to write other stuff too. I have always felt that as a writer I wanted to choose my subjects the way Kubrick chose scripts. So I wanted to do Strangelove followed by 2001, followed by Clockwork Orange.
Not all of my books have worked. Some have been abject failures. But at least I tried to do something different. It's lazy not to try.

6] How much research was done before March Violets, and how much extra research is done before each novel? Is the slang used in the Gunther books your own invention or a translation of German police slang?

I did a lot of research for March Violets; about 18 months before I wrote one word. That was just lack of confidence, I think. But I always do as much as I can. It's got easier with the Internet. Books can be more easily sourced these days.

The slang is not my own invention nor is it anything to do with the police. The words are often more literal translations of real German phrases instead of their English equivalents. It's as simple as that, I'm afraid.

Writing a novel is a good excuse to go somewhere interesting. I went to Cuba to research If The Dead Rise Not. Fantastic place. Ruined by communists. I advise people to go soon before people completely ruin what's been so beautifully ruined.

7] Do you think the use of historical figures in the books is important in creating the right atmosphere? Which comes first for you the characters or plot?

Plot comes first for me. The great thing for me has been that whatever story I can create, whatever crime I'm describing, there's an even more horrible crime happening in the background that's called Nazism. Also the real villains can always walk onto my stage and trump any villain I can create, which is always very useful. The whole Nazi thing creates a wonderful echo chamber for my own poor stories. And the truth is always stranger than fiction.

[To be continued]


Blogger crimeficreader said...

Enjoying reading this interview, Norm! Looking forward to the rest...

5:22 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks CFR, probably two more posts left in this interview.

8:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home