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Best of the Book Nook: Remembering Philip Kerr

Vick Mickunas' remembrance of Philip Kerr


Publishers will often send out advance copies of books so that I will have the opportunity to read them before the books are officially published. I am always reading something and I'll usually finish a book before starting the next one. Usually. Now and then I'll receive a book by one of my favorite writers and I'll instantly drop whatever book I was reading so that I can start reading the latest by one of those authors whose work I treasure. Philip Kerr was one of those authors.

Last year I got an advance copy of "Prussian Blue," his 12th novel in the crime series that features the Berlin homicide detective Bernie Gunther. This massive volume went straight to the top of my stack. As I was finishing it I thought that this is the longest book Philip Kerr has written and also the best. It was two o'clock in the morning when I read the author's acknowledgments at the end of the book. I nearly fell off the bed when I noticed my name was included among the people he was thanking.

I had interviewed him for his previous five books and when I spoke to him about "Prussian Blue" I waited until we were finished recording the interview to thank him for mentioning me. He was so very gracious as he explained that he really was thankful for the attention that I was bringing to his work.

I interviewed him for five Bernie Gunther books and one stand alone novel called "Prayer." During the interview for "Prayer" I learned some things about him that I had not known. For one thing I had always assumed that he was English. That day we were talking about prayers and religion and the concept of heaven. He told me that he had grown up in a very strict religious family in Edinburgh and that he had not enjoyed the experience very much. Before he told me that I had no idea that he was even Scottish! I could not detect the slightest trace of a Scottish accent.

Over the course of six interviews (all by phone) I really felt like we developed a rapport. His publisher kept sending him over here on book tours and I kept thanking them for doing that. When I would mention to Philip how grateful I was about these opportunities to keep interviewing him he would respond that "the only thing worse than going on a book tour of the US was not being asked to go on one." I knew that this was a line he probably used a lot but I still loved to hear it. He had a dry wit.

After he published "Prussian Blue" I decided that it was time to declare that I had a favorite crime novelist (Philip Kerr) and a favorite crime series in Bernie Gunther. During that last interview I told Philip that I considered "Prussian Blue" to be his best work ever. I really think that is true.

Early this year I received an advance copy of the next Bernie Gunther novel "Greeks Bearing Gifts." I immediately contacted his publisher to schedule an interview when the book came out. I was told that he would not be touring the US for this book. I wasn't giving up easily however. I tracked down another publicist who was scheduling just a few hours of interviews with Philip in April when the book was coming out. I got on the list and had an interview scheduled to talk to Philip on April 5 at his home in London.

On March 23 I heard that Philip had died. He had been battling cancer for eight months. Only his closest friends and family knew about his illness. And despite what he was going through he had still planned to do a few interviews in April. He was only 62.

I went through all six interviews I did with him and pulled out some bits that I liked to assemble this memorial tribute. His new book just came out and I understand that he had finished one more Bernie, the 14th, right before he died. That book is supposed to be a prequel. I cannot wait to read it.

I miss him.

The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library,  Clark County Public LibraryDayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library. 

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