I was caught off-guard by A German Requiem. With March Violets being set in 1936 and A Pale Criminal in 1938 I was expecting A German Requiem to be set during World War II. I wondered what Bernie would be doing with real crime amidst the murderous excesses of Nazi Germany.
Instead, the book is set in 1947. Bernie is back in a devastated Berlin working again as a private detective. He has received his denazification certificate. What he did during the war will be discussed in my next two posts.
An even greater surprise is that Bernie has married since A Pale Criminal. His wife, Kirsten, is working in Johnny’s American Bar which only admits American First Three Graders from the occupying American forces. Many evenings she returns home with some PX items.
Bernie and Kirsten are just scrapping by in a city now divided between the Four Occupying Powers. While they remain together the marriage is strained.
Recovering from a hangover is hastened when Bernie answers a knock on the door to find a Russian colonel, Palkovnik Poroshin, visiting him. Having just had a violent encounter with a Russian soldier Bernie is worried about the purpose of the visit. He relaxes briefly when Poroshin says he is there to discuss a mutual friend, Emil Becker. (Bernie had worked with Becker in A Pale Criminal.)
Poroshin, a colonel in Russian intelligence, wants to retain Bernie to help clear Becker who has been charged with the murder of a Captain Linden in the American army in Vienna. Becker has been involved in shifty dealings.
After initially refusing Bernie accepts the proposal. Bernie has had a series of reluctant services to the powerful.
Becker will hang unless Bernie can find evidence that would clear him.
Poroshin provides the funds and authorizations and Bernie takes the train to Vienna. He finds a city barely touched by the war when compared with Berlin. The difference can be summed up by what is available in his simple pension:
The place was warm and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of hot water – an unaccustomed luxury. I had not long finished a bath, the duration of which even Marat might have baulked at, when there was a knock at my sitting-room door, …
Bernie’s task is challenging for he must find evidence that shows false evidence has been assembled against Becker. No case is harder than trying to prove an accused has been framed.
Bernie starts his investigation and immediately encounters representatives of both the American Army and the American Military Intelligence Agency. They do not share information freely.
Bernie is a weary man. The time he spent as a Russian POW was draining. Going back to Berlin has been stressful. Existing in post-war Germany is exhausting as everyone struggles to find food and accommodation.
What Bernie finds goes back to the War and its consequences. While the Third Reich has perished there are still a lot of Nazis around and Bernie knows many of them.
While appreciating the comforts of Vienna Bernie can barely keep track of all the treachery around him. Everyone is scheming. The black market is flourishing. While the war is over intrigue never ends.
A German Requiem, despite the difficulty of life in post-war Europe, is not as grim as March Violets and A Pale Criminal. I was grateful there was finally a glimmer of hope for the future in Germany.