Shelf Life

Philip Kerr reviews his own back catalogue
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Subliminal Cuts


I harboured literary ambitions from the moment I could read and started writing long before I had anything to say. Throughout my adolescence I turned out a series of awful poems and plays and, when I was 16, a dreadful novel called . It was about a man having a relationship with two women at the same time. I destroyed it a long time ago.

The Berlin Noir Trilogy

I set myself an almost impossible task with my first novel, March Violets, which was to recreate the atmosphere of pre-war Berlin. I wanted to imagine what would have happened if Chandler, who spent his youth in Dulwich, had moved there, rather than to California. At the time research seemed to be the key to getting published, so I spent hours tramping around Berlin; the whole process took about three years. I felt sufficiently interested in my gumshoe (Bernie Gunther) to write another two novels, but I didn't want to get stuck with him forever, so I decided to quit and try something else.

A Philosophical Investigation

I wrote this as an antidote to all the research I'd been doing - an imaginative novel that needed no location work at all. I wrote it from a woman's perspective which was fun to do, and I think I pulled it off. Certainly, women say that I got her character exactly right.

Dead Meat

Writing is such a solitary existence that it sometimes feels as though the characters you are creating are your only companions - that's a huge incentive not to get writers block: because you are making up people to spend time with, but in A Philosophical Investigation I had to inhabit the mind of a killer; a nasty, but not depresing, sensation. My worst experience was working on Dead Meat. It was 1991 and lived in St Petersburg for three weeks researching the Mafia. I spent a lot of time drinking vodka with the police, who really were low-life. I was frequently carried insensible from people's houses.


This was set inside a modern office block and although I started off hating modern architecture, after a great deal of research I ended up loving it. In 1995 Gridiron was awarded the Literary Review's Annual Bad Sex Prize, for the worst written description of sex published that year. I was less upset about that than my lack of redress during the ceremony: they pulled the plug on my mike.


When I was at school teachers were always telling us to "write about what you know" but I prefer to start from a position of complete ignorance. In this novel, there wasn't much opportunity to exercise my unbridled interest in sex because Esau is set on a snow-covered mountain in the Himalayas.

A Five Year Plan

The title is taken from The Third Man. Tom Cruise bought the film rights before it was even written, which made some people accuse me of cynically writing screenplays disguised as novels. All I can say is that if it was that easy I'd have done it a long time ago. It took me 15 years to get published and seven of those were spent near the breadline.