Archive for the ‘Bernie Gunther’ Category

cc2zagrebricciardiarmsMy reading in February included A Colder War by Charles Cumming, a very good spy thriller, and The Lady From Zagreb, the tenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. My review of Philip Kerr’s  novel will appear on Euro Crime in due course. I also got about halfway through the excellent Viper by Maurizio De Giovanni, but we were going away for a few days and Viper’s cover includes an image of a dead prostitute sprawled over a bed.

I therefore decided to take  Arms and The Women [2000] by Reginald Hill to read at our luxurious bed and breakfast. This is a 611 page reg hillblockbuster, but a brilliant read, and I am now totally engrossed at page 237 by those quirky characters, Ellie Pascoe, Peter Pascoe, Andy Dalziel, Wieldy and Novello.

My reading over the last few years of Reginald Hill’s body of work has convinced me he is one of the greatest crime writers produced by this country since the war. I wonder if the failings of the later Dalziel and Pascoe television series have contributed to him not being rated as highly in some circles as some less deserving writers. That pesky WH Smith poll still really annoys me; Peter James 1, Val McDermid 3, Ian Rankin 4, Ruth Rendell 13, P.D.James 18, and Reginald Hill 48! 

Unfortunately once the television series lost Edgar Wield and Ellie Pascoe it never had that special quality retained in the novels. 

I haven’t read the Dalziel and Pascoe books in order, but when I started in 2010 to read them again after a long break I began with the  last in the series Midnight Fugue [2009], a pastiche of the TV series 24. In 2012 I read On Beulah Height [1998] and then went back to Deadheads [1983] and Underworld [1988]. I had a Dalziel and Pascoe addiction by now, and they became my holiday reading material of choice. In 2013 I read Bones and Silence [1990], Recalled to Life [1992], Pictures of Perfection [1994] , and The Wood Beyond [1995]. Last year I jumped forward, perhaps put off a little by the sheer bulk of some of the next books in the series, to The Death of Dalziel [2007] and A Cure for All Diseases [2008], a pastiche of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon. Reginald Hill did love his Jane Austen.

You would think you might become bored reading so many books by the same author with the same characters, but Reginald Hill alters his approach to each novel keep each book fresh, vital and full of humour. 

I will return to Viper, which is also a very good read, when I have finished Arms and the Women.  

Well for once the postie didn’t ring our bell today. He probably thought his delivery time was too early in the morning for retired old age pensioners, but he did leave two very nice parcels on our doorstep. 

cc2Well timed as I had just finished this morning reading A Colder War by Charles Cumming. I had made slower progress with this exciting spy drama, number two in the series featuring disgraced agent Thomas Kell and his former boss the glamorous Amelia Levene, simply because of the wonderful early spring weather we have been having on the English

When MI6’s top man in Turkey is killed in a plane crash Kell is called back again to track down a possible mole. After a suitably slow start, with Kell mixing work and pleasure [no spoilers], the action and the trade craft becomes fast and furious as Kell journeys from Ankara, and Istanbul, to London and Odessa to track down the mole. An excellent read with an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series. I am usually not keen on endings that leave the reader wondering what happens next, but this is cleverly done and probably more authentic than a nice cosy finish. My copy had bonus content including the author’s interesting essay on The Changing Face of Spy Fiction, making A Colder War a very good read. 

But what was in those two parcels?

ricciardizagrebIn the first was thanks to Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions a copy of Maurizio De Giovanni’s new Commissario Ricciardi novel Viper. I have read and reviewed the first three books in this fine series, but the next two sit unread on my shelf. But I have now promised myself that I will read Viper first, and catch up with the others at a later date.

Karen from Euro Crime knowing that I have read all of the previous nine Bernie Gunther thrillers very kindly arranged for the folks at Quercus to send me an uncorrected proof of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr, the tenth book in the series. 

Now I don’t mind if it rains, my reading for the rest of February is planned out.   





Karen at Euro Crime is running a feature on the Euro Crime Reviewers 5 favourite reads of 2013

My own five favourite books of 2013 were:

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas translator Sian Reynolds

This book was joint winner of the CWA International Dagger as Vargas intrigues and teases the reader with more Gallic quirkiness. 

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris  

A superb novel retelling the true story of the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of Georges Picquart. The truth proves to be more astonishing than any fictional plot dreamt up by an author.

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller  

A brilliant novel about loss and ageing that made me both laugh and cry. Definitely one not to be missed and on many people’s best of year lists.

Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget translated by Steven Rendall

My discovery of the year, and hopefully this debut novel will be the start of a fine police procedural series set in Perpignan.

Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W.Persson translated by Neil Smith

The first in the Evert Backstrom trilogy featuring an obnoxious character you won’t easily forget.


 There were several fine books that after some thought and a lot of prevarication just failed to make that top five.

These included:

Blessed Are Those That Thirst by Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce-The second book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes- A psychological thriller that gripped this reader.

Black Bear by Aly Monroe- The return of Peter Cotton in a spy story set in post war America.

Police by Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett- A fine come back by Jo Nesbo after a couple of novels that were in my opinion not up to his usual standard.

Alex by Pierre LeMaitre trans Frank Wynne- A French police procedural with a clever twist and the joint winner of the CWA International Dagger. 

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson- The Van Veeteren series is consistently satisfying with one of the most interesting team of detectives ever created.

 Moving on to new publications in 2014.

Thanks to the hardworking Karen at Euro Crime for producing a lengthy list of the new releases in 2014. I am particularly looking forward to reading:

Deon Meyer, Cobra

Asa Larsson, The Second Deadly Sin

Hakan Nesser, The G File

Leif G.W. Persson, Falling Freely As If In A Dream

Liza Marklund, Borderline  

Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, Winter Siege

P1030783Crime Scraps was started in September 2006, and I don’t know what is the average life of a blog, but I think it is well into adulthood by now. My original plan was to have a record of the books I had read, and to bring to the attention of any readers two series of detective books. The first was the ten book Martin Beck series Story of a Crime by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, of which I had read about six during the 1970s and 1980s, and I had searched second hand book shops for the remaining books with little success. The second was the Salvo Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri which I had recently discovered. 

I remember three years later charging into a WH Smith in the company of a distinguished translator of Scandinavian crime fiction, and finding only one of his books on display at the back. But within a few months Scandinavian crime fiction was all over the shelves in every type of retail outlet that sold books. And now we have had various Wallanders, Sarah Lund, and numerous other Nordic shows on TV, as well as Montalbano and Young Montalbano representing Italian crime fiction and Spiral from France with its distinctive Gallic approach.  I therefore decided to go back and spend a few weeks reading some of the crime writers who had me hooked years ago, and have read thirteen books since my holiday reading roundup.

I read and scored with star ratings:

Feast Day of Fools**, Pegasus Descending**, and Sunset Limited*** by James Lee Burke,

A Guilty Thing Surprised** and Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter*** by Ruth Rendell,

A German Requiem*** and The One from the Other*** by Philip Kerr,

The Hanging Garden*** by Ian Rankin,

Recalled to Life*****, Pictures of Perfection***** and The Wood Beyond*****by Reginald Hill,

The Scent of Death*** by Andrew Taylor [winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger]

The Windsor Faction***** by D.J.Taylor [reviewed at Euro Crime]  

So what did I learn from reading and re-reading these books. Well some authors were not as good as I remembered and others made a fresh impression that encouraged me to read more of their output. Some of the writers produced such worthy messages that it made up for their over convoluted repetitive plots. But above all I came to the conclusion Reginald Hill was an outstanding crime writer coming up with new fresh ways to write interesting crime novels. I particularly liked his Dickensian Recalled to Life, his very clever Austen like Pictures of Perfection, and one that I had read a while ago Midnight Fugue, a parody/pastiche of the TV series 24 Hours.

Andrew Taylor’s The Scent of Death was well written, with a very atmospheric  setting in 1777 Revolutionary New York, and a good read, but was it any better, and did it have as strong a moral message as  the other contenders for the Ellis Peters Award. This was the third time Andrew Taylor has won this award and I sometimes think that winning the award is a major factor in repeat wins. I am not singling out Andrew Taylor for any criticism, because there are transatlantic authors who regularly win awards every year, and when I have read a sample of their work I have found it far less worthy than The Scent of Death. Even a great Fred Vargas fan such as I still cannot understand the thinking behind her win in 2009 over a strong field which contained books by Johan Theorin,  Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen.

I have some new translated crime fiction to read and hopefully will be able to produce some full reviews, but I will end my catch up with a quote from Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, which begins with a murder in that watershed year of 1963, when an American president was assassinated, a British government fell, and a young innocent went off to university. 

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans. We who grew up in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and came to our maturity in the dreadful ‘eighties have seen the destruction of that dream without ever having the joy of dreaming it. Recalled to Life; Reginald Hill 1992     

AMWBreathYou can read my review of Philip Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther thriller A Man Without Breath at Euro Crime.


This novel should be a strong contender for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award simply for its educational value in being informative about some of the terrible events that went on in Eastern Europe, before and during World War II. Yet another novel that makes me very grateful that my great grandparents, and grandparents had the foresight to take a boat trip west in the 19th and early 20th century. 

ehitdcI read six more crime fiction books during a cold miserable February and they varied between historical thrillers and psychological mysteries. pickofthemonth2012


Into The Darkest Corner: Elizabeth Haynes-[To Be Reviewed next week]

A superb  psychological thriller and a debut novel which I literally could not put down as the author racks up the tension towards the conclusion.


Pierced: Thomas Enger translator Charlotte Barslund- A disappointing book for me with too many pages, too much switching of perspective, and 119 chapters. I will be reading number three in this series and hoping the choppy style will be smoothed out a bit. 

The Bridge of Sighs: Olen Steinhauer– A good police procedural set in a fictional post-Second World War Eastern European country that had been “liberated” by the Red Army. Four more books await me in this interesting series.

Bones and Silence: Reginald Hill– The 1990 CWA Gold Dagger winning police procedural from one of England’s greatest crime writers. 

Beast In View: Margaret Millar- This brilliant psychological mystery won the Edgar in 1955, but unfortunately shows its age with outdated attitudes. Nevertheless a great read with a fantastic twist and a glimpse of the past. 

A Man Without Breath: Philip Kerr- [The review to appear on Euro Crime]- Another fine book in the Bernie Gunther series.

And my pick of the month was another close run thing but Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes was something a bit different from my recent reading and therefore was my February choice.

The 2012 CWA Ellis Peters Shortlist contains seven books of which I have now read four. A fifth Laura Wilson’s A Willing Victim has been reviewed by Maxine of Petrona [The link is to her review] and I have taken her views into consideration in picking a possible winner of this prestigious award. Here is the shortlist of seven books. 

The Crown: Nancy Bilyeau [set in 1537]

Sacrilege: S.J.Parris [1584]

I Will Have Vengeance: Maurizio De Giovanni [1931]

Prague Fatale: Philip Kerr [1941]

Bitter Water: Gordon Ferris [1946]

Icelight: Aly Monroe [1947]

A Willing Victim: Laura Wilson [1956]

I admit to not particularly liking Tudor-Elizabethan historical crime fiction, although I did enjoy one of C.J.Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. The comments on Friend Feed that The Crown involves shenanigans in a medieval nunnery, and that fans of Dan Brown will enjoy it, create a big hurdle for this book to overcome in my mind. Sacrilege by S. J.Parris I note from an Amazon review reminds us every three pages that English people in 1584 hated foreigners, and I therefore would remove that book from consideration as well. My apologies to the authors if both these books are brilliant historical thrillers, and I have been mislead by other reviewers. If one of these novels wins I promise to read it. 😉

I was about thirteen years old when I tackled La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas [in translation] and perhaps that, and subsequently The Three Musketeers and its sequels, spoilt me for anything 16th or early 17th Century. 

My choice would be between the very clever and hard hitting Prague Fatale, and the atmospheric spy story Icelight. But the idiosyncratic I Will Have Vengeance could spring a surprise. We will know tomorrow night when the winner of Ellis Peters, and the International Dagger will be announced at a black tie dinner in The Library at One Birdcage Walk.  

June was another successful reading month, and although I could not call it an enjoyable read Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr was my pick of the month. A clever blend of the classic locked room and country house mystery was used as a contrast to the brutality and barbarity of the Nazi regime. An eighth outing for Bernie Gunther, a flawed hero chasing a murderer among mass murderers.


In Philip Kerr’s 8th Bernie Gunther book, after a very brief introductory 1942 preamble, we are taken back to September 1941. Bernie has returned from the Eastern Front where he has seen and participated in terrible crimes. His suicidal feelings of disgust and guilt are not improved by the rundown state of wartime Berlin. Back as a homicide detective Bernie is investigating the murder of a Dutch railway worker, when he meets Arianne Tauber a local good time girl who has been attacked in the streets. A common occurrence in the blackout. 
But Bernie has to drop the investigation when he is summoned to Prague by Reinhard Heydrich, who has just been appointed the new Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, as he wants Bernie to be his personal bodyguard.
‘Klein, my driver, is quite capable of pulling out a gun and shooting some witless Czecho. As am I. But I want someone around me who understands murder and murderers, and who can handle himself to boot. A proper detective who is trained to be suspicious.’
Heydrich has invited a group of SS officers to stay as guests at his country retreat of Jungfern-Breschan, a late nineteenth-century French-style chateau. The house was previously owned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish sugar merchant, whose femme fatale wife Adele, was famously painted by Gustav Klimt. A copy of the painting sits on the wall during Bernie’s stay because the original had been stolen ‘by that greedy fat bastard Hermann Goring.’
It was a modest little place, but only by the standards of Hermann Goring, or Mussolini, perhaps.
When Captain Kuttner, one of Heydrich’s four adjutants is found murdered in his bedroom with the door locked from the inside, the story becomes a pastiche of the classic English country house murder mystery with a lengthy list of suspects all seemingly with secrets to hide.  The irony in searching for a murderer in a house full of mass murderers is not lost on Bernie. As Bernie questions the suspects the reader learns about their careers, their rise through the Nazi ranks, and their weaknesses and hatred for each other.
This is a superb book written in a brisk first person narrative, a technique that emphasizes the horror of the events described. The suspects are almost all monsters with slightly varying degrees of guilt, and a welcome author’s notes at the end charts their respective fates. Crime fiction can be an entertaining, or can make telling social commentary, or it can educate.
Prague Fatale, whether it was intended as such or not, is almost all an education about evil; and because of the subject matter it cannot be called a pleasant or entertaining read. Even Bernie Gunther’s wit and the country house mystery format can’t hide the fact that this is mostly a story about man’s terrible inhumanity to fellow human beings.  Perhaps Prague Fatale should be required reading for the sort of scum who appeared on the recent BBC Panorama program on Football supporters and Racism in Poland and Ukraine chanting anti-Semitic slogans, and abusing Asian fans and black players. 
One advantage that Philip Kerr has in selecting this particular historical period to write about is that the real life situations are the stuff of fiction, and the characters more evil than any possible fictional creation. 
‘But the real reason why Dr Jury likes opera so much is every bit as vulgar as you describe. Rumour has it he’s been having an affair with a young singer at the Deutsches Oper in Berlin. Rather an attractive creature by the name of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.  And that would be vulgar enough were it not for the fact that she’s also singing a duet with Doctor Goebbels. At least, that’s what General Heydrich says.’  
The plot of Prague Fatale is not a complex as some as the earlier books in the series with their back stories and repeated flashbacks, but it is equally as hard hitting.  Perhaps more so as the contrast between the luxurious lifestyle at Jungfren-Breschan and what goes on outside is so stark. There are some moving passages where Bernie gets food to help the elderly Jewish sisters who live in the apartment below his, or where he stands up for an elderly Jewish veteran, with the Knight’s cross with oak leaves on a ribbon round his neck alongside the yellow star on his coat. But this is a bleak tale because it is based on reality. 
Prague Fatale is a thought provoking and at times difficult read, but an important addition to a fine series, and made me want to fill in my gaps in the Bernie Gunther story.
The Bernie Gunther series with links to my reviews.

A German Requiem
The One from the Other
‘Like all the General’s henchmen he’s a bit of a golem. Except that he’s a German, of course. The original Golem of Prague was-‘
‘Jewish. Yes, I know.’
‘Like his master.’ Doctor Jury smiles. ‘Rabbi Loew that is . Not General Heydrich.’   
[Warning: there is an unpleasant example of torture towards the end of the book.]