On 31st July 2019 the world lost a truly inspirational crime fiction reviewer. Proud Frenchman, former lawyer and discerning traveller, this man was a true maverick who had often-derisive opinions that were nonetheless well researched, well argued and often ahead of their time.
For example, he was not a fan of national service and refused to participate, which at the time was considered unpatriotic but is now considered, by many, to be a sensible course of action.
Having fled Nazi-occupied France as a child, Berlins travelled the world, and he claimed to have learned perfect English by reading Agatha Christie novels. Later, he drew on this knowledge to become a popular figure in the literary world, regularly writing reviews for revered publications such as the Guardian and the Times. He also hosted a popular Radio 4 programme on the law and was a visiting professor in journalism for the City, University of London.
He was also an expert pianist, and he combined all of these unique and disparate skills to offer his opinion on crime fiction in a way that hadn’t seen before and will never be seen again. He could get straight to the issue of any book with ease and fully understood the problems or perfection that the author had created.
Through his understanding of the law and his ability to make it easily accessible to ordinary readers with no prior understanding he was able to take apart even complicated books, plots, narratives or storylines and unpick the intricacies with ease. He understood what readers were looking for from crime fiction and offered an honest opinion on whether they were getting it or not. Witty, dry and often downright hilarious, his reviews were a great source of joy for many and, in some cases, were better than reading the book itself.
As a crime fiction blogger and reviewer myself I have always respected Berlins and I understand that his loss is a great blow to the reviewing community, and the entire crime fiction market. When he died of a brain haemorrhage at the end of July, in losing Marcel Berlins the world lost a true genius.