Archive for Philip Kerr

a journal of the plague year [lazy August reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2020 by xi'an

Read Blood of Empire, the final volume in the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy. By Brian McClellan. Which I enjoyed reasonably well as bedside literature, although its weight meant it would fall at the slightest hint of sleep… It took me longer than expected to connect to the story, given I had read the previous volume a few months ago. This series is classified as “flintrock fantasy”, a category I had never heard of previous, meaning a limited amount of gunpower is used in weapons, along with the aid of magical abilities (for the happy few). The style is a wee bit heavy and repetitive, but the characters are definitely engaging if over-prone to inner dialogues… The only annoying part in the plot is the presence of a super-evil character about to be become a god, which ruins most of the balance in the story.

Had a long-pending due watch at Trainspotting T2. (Loved the NYT label as “Rated R for a bagful of vomit, mouthfuls of bigotry and nosefuls of cocaine”, obviously in the same regressive spirit as the film.) This is definitely a sequel to the first film. And hence hardly comprehensible on its own. Except for a few locations like a run-down pub on the edge of nowhere, a flat overlooking a car part dump and Spud’s high-rise welfare housing, T2 lacks the gritty vision of Edinburgh found in its forbear. And the characters have lost their toxic edge, except maybe very much maybe for the psychopath Franck. Even the de rigueur final swindle has a rosy and predictable justification. Fun nonetheless! On the (tourist) side, I enjoyed a mostly superfluous scene where Renton takes Spud running up Arthur’s Seat along its most scenic route, with an iconic end image of Edinburgh gradually fading into fog. There is also a surreal (short) scene on Rannoch Mor, with the Oban train stopping at the hikers’ stop. (I never managed to start Welsh’s books, due to their phonetic rendering of Edniburghian Scots that make reading unbearable..! By comparison, most dialogues are understandable. A funny line when the hostess welcoming tourists at Edinburgh Airport with a mock Scottish accent acknowledges she is from Slovakia.) Camera tricks like fast backward and colour filters a wee bit old-fashioned and heavy-handed, in the spirit of the first movie as if nothing had ever happened since. Maybe the moral of the story. Not looking for a potential T3, though.

Read a forgotten volume in the Bernhard Günther series of Philip Kerr, A man without breath. As usual building on historical events from Nazi Germany to set this ambivalent character at the centre of the action, which is this time the discovery and exploitation of the Katyǹ massacres by the Nazi propaganda to drive an edge between the Soviet Union and the other Allies. The book is rather uneven, with too many plots, subplots, and characters, and open criticisms of the Nazi regime between complete strangers do not ring particularly realistic. And draw attention away from their own massacres, like Babi Yar (celebrated in Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 13). Interestingly, given that I read the book at the time of the JSM round-table, a thread in the story links to the Spanish Civil War and the attempt by fascist doctors like Vallejo Nágera to picture left-wing Spaniards as psychiatrically degenerates, fantasying the existence of a “red” gene… (It took me a while to trace the reference in the title to Goebbels’ quote “A nation with no religion is like a man without breath.” )

Prussian blue [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2019 by xi'an

This is the one-before-last volume in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series (one-before-last since the author passed away last year). Which I picked in a local bookstore for taking place in Berchtesgaden, which stands a few kilometers west of Salzburg and which I passed on my way there (and back) last week. Very good title, full of double meanings!

“When you’re working for people who are mostly thieves and murderers, a little of it comes off on your hands now and then.”

Two time-lines run in parallel in Prussian Blue, from 1939 Nazi Germany to 1956 France, from (mostly) hunter to hunted. Plenty of wisecracks worth quoting throughout the book, mostly à la Marlowe, but also singling out Berlin(ers) from the rest of Germany. An anti-hero if any in that Bernie Gunther is working there as a policeman for the Nazi State, aiming at making the law respected in a lawless era and to catch murderers at a time where the highest were all murderers and about to upscale this qualification to levels never envisioned before. Still working under Heydrich’s order to solve a murder despite the attempt of other arch-evils like Martin Bormann and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, as well as a helpful (if Hitler supporter!) Gerdy Troost. Among the Gunther novels I have read so far this one is the closest he gets to the ultimate evil, Hitler himself, who considered the Berghof in Berchtesgaden as his favourite place, without ever meeting him. The gratuitous violence and bottomless corruption inherent to the fascist regime are most realistically rendered in the thriller, to the point of making the possibility of a Bernie Gunther debatable!

‘Making a nuisance of yourself is what being a policeman is all about and suspecting people who were completely above suspicion was about the only thing that made doing the job such fun in Nazi Germany.’

As I kept reading the book I could not but draw a connection with the pre-War Rogue Male imperfect but nonetheless impressive novel, where an English “sport” hunter travels to Berchtesgaden to shoot (or aim at) Hitler only to get spotted by soldiers before committing the act and becoming hunted in his turn throughout Europe, ending up [spoiler!] in a burrow trapped by Nazi secret services [well this is not exactly the end!]. This connection has been pointed out in some reviews, but the role of the burrows and oppressive underground and the complicity of the local police forces are strongly present in both books and somewhat decreases the appeal of this novel. Especially since the 1956 thread therein is a much less convincing plot than the 1939 one, despite involving conveniently forgotten old colleagues, the East Germany Stasi, hopeless French policemen and clergymen, the Sarre referendum, [much maligned!] andouillettes and oignons.