|Genre||Crime, Detective, Historical mystery|
|Publisher||Viking Press, London|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (Hardback edition)|
|LC Class||PR6061.E784 M37 1989|
|Followed by||The Pale Criminal|
|Part of a series on|
March Violets is a historical detective novel and the first written by Philip Kerr featuring detective Bernhard "Bernie" Günther. March Violets is the first of the trilogy by Kerr called Berlin Noir. The second, The Pale Criminal, appeared in 1990 and the third, A German Requiem in 1991.
Bernhard Günther, a 38-year-old ex-cop turned private detective, is hired by rich industrialist Hermann Six to recover a diamond necklace stolen from his daughter Grete's house. As part of the robbery, it appears both his daughter and her husband, Paul Pfarr, were murdered and the house was torched.
Through various informants, Günther discovers that Paul Pfarr was an SS and at odds with Hermann Six, and was working to eradicate corruption in the government administration under orders from Himmler. He also uncovers a link between Six's private secretary Hjalmar Haupthändler and Kurt Jeschonneck, a shady diamond dealer.
The investigation then centers around a certain Von Greis, an aristocrat collecting blackmail material on important personalities for Goering, which Goering uses for political means. During the investigation Günther meets Inge Lorenz, who becomes his assistant and, eventually, romantic interest. With Inge, Günther follows various clues to try to find Kurt Mutschmann, the criminal who allegedly cracked the safe of the Pfarr house. This leads them to a dilapidated pension where they find the body of Von Greis. Eventually they find out that Mutschmann did the robbery for Red Dieter, the head of the German Strength crime syndicate. Günter then meets Paul's assistant, Marlene Sahm, at the Reich Sports Field during races that are part of the 1936 Olympic games. From Sahm, Günter learns that Paul had discovered Six was corrupt and was about to indict him. To do that, he tried to convince Von Greis to release what he had on Six, but Von Greis refused so Paul got the Gestapo to obtain the documents for him. Von Greis later was killed by Red Dieter's men.
Following his meeting with Sahm, Günter takes a taxi to Haupthändler's beach house. There he sees Haupthändler, Jeschonnek, and a woman, and confronts them. In the scuffle he kills Jeschonnek and knocks out Haupthändler and the woman, but is then knocked out himself by an assailant from Red Dieter's crew. In the meantime, Inge disappeared.
Once recovered from the beach house event, Günter goes to Six's place to get answers to some pending questions. Six tries to pay to get him off the case, but Günter confronts him with the facts at his disposal. During the exchange Günter realizes that the woman he saw at Haupthändler's beach house was Six's daughter, not Paul's girlfriend. It turns out Grete Pfarr, Six's daughter, had killed Paul and his mistress and, with the help of Haupthändler, stolen the necklace to generate some cash for an escape, then burned down the house. But by then the safe had already been deprived of the papers by Mutschmann, and their theft of the necklace just made Red Dieter look bad to his employer, Hermann Six. Six comes to the terrible realization that Red Dieter holds his daughter and Haupthändler, and he and Günter retrieve a motor boat to go to the headquarters of the German Strength Ring.
At the German Strength headquarters, Six and Günther explain the case to Red Dieter, who helps them retrieve Haupthändler and Grete, who were being tortured based on the false belief that they must know the location of the von Greis papers since they have the necklace which was in the safe with the papers. In retrieving the two prisoners, Red Dieter has to shoot one of his men and things heat up. Günther tries to escape from with Grete in a boat but they are intercepted by a Gestapo raid. In the action, Grete catches a stray bullet and dies.
Günther awakens to find out he has been taken in by the Gestapo and he is left to rot in a cell for a week. Eventually, a Gestapo officer, Heydrich, forces him to accept to go to the Dachau concentration camp to try to covertly befriend Mutschmann, who is a prisoner there, and obtain from him the location of the Von Greis papers. Günther is sent to Dachau and has various unfortunate camp experiences there, which land him at the hospital. In the hospital he discovers Mutschmann, who is dying of hepatitis. In the end Mutschmann yields the location of the papers before dying. Günther gives it to the Gestapo, who lets him go. He never finds Inge.
The major themes of the novel include corruption among the civil servants of the Third Reich, the everyday violence and anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime and the inability or unwillingness of ordinary Germans to act in the face of the coming war.
Although most of the characters are fictitious, the novel's plot also involves historical figures, including Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Arthur Nebe, and Walther Funk. A scene in Chapter 15 takes place at the Reich Sports Field during an Olympic track and field event in which Jesse Owens participates.
Many place names of 1936 Berlin are referred to. However, an anachronism is present in Chapter 7, where Kerr refers to a street on the edge the Dahlem section of Berlin as "Clayallee". This street, originally Kronprinzenallee, was renamed in 1949 in honor of the American General Lucius D. Clay, Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone and organizer of the Berlin Airlift in relief of the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.
- 1989, UK, Viking, ISBN 978-0670824311, Pub date 23 March 1989, Hardcover
- 1990, UK, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140114669, Pub date 14 May 1990, Paperback
- 1993, UK, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140231700, Pub date 29 April 1993 (as the first part of the "Berlin Noir" paperback)
Explanation of the novel's title
- 1993 Le Prix du Roman d'Aventures
- 1994 Prix Mystère de la critique, in the foreign novel category
- 2011 Named by The Guardian as one of the ten best books set in Berlin
- "U.S. Installations details-1, History of Clay Headquarters". Retrieved April 3, 2012.
- "The rise of Adolf Hitler". The History Place. 1996. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- "Le guides des Prix Polar". Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- Burgess, Malcolm (17 August 2011). "10 of the best books set in Berlin". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 October 2015.