Philip Kerr enjoyed a stellar literary debut. March Violets, the first of his Bernie Gunther novels, appeared in 1989 to wide critical appreciation. By the time the third novel in the series was published two years later, Kerr’s reputation was established. As eminent a literary voice as Salman Rushdie hailed him as brilliantly innovative, and in 1993 the literary review Granta named Kerr among the top twenty living British authors. His subsequent techno-thrillers attracted further admirers: He was called the Michael Crichton of the 1990’s. His A Philosophical Investigation (1992), Gridiron (1995), and The Second Angel (1998) are considered benchmarks for crossover genre fiction.
Kerr became noted for two qualities: the detailed realism of his historical settings and the intricacy of his plot-driven novels and their intellectual tenor. The novels typically contain long discussions of philosophy, science, and technology, all fundamental to the plots. Although many reviewers find his depictions of historical characters (such as Isaac Newton, Adolf Hitler, and Franklin D. Roosevelt) to be believable, others complain that his emphasis on story in preference to characterization results in stereotyping and oversimplification. Moreover, Kerr received the unwelcome distinction of a Bad Sex Award, an annual antitribute from Britain’s Literary Review for a purple sex scene in an otherwise good novel. Some critics complain of his gruesome violence and gloomy tone. The majority, however, find that among genre writers, Kerr produces novels that most resemble literary fiction.