Archive for Philip Marlowe

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.

Altered Carbon

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , on June 11, 2011 by xi'an

I happened to read Richard Morgan‘s Altered Carbon by chance, thanks to a colleague who left it on my desk and I wonder why this 2002 book did not get enough fame for me to have heard of it earlier. It is a fantastic (in the sense of superb, not of fantasy!) futuristic roman noir, set in a San Francisco more than 400 years from now. Altered Carbon is somewhat of a mix between Chandler and Gibson, in that the hero Takeshi Kovacs, is a hard-boiled private à la Marlowe, keeping well-hidden a soft inner core that takes over each time or so he meets a woman [which happens rather regularly in the novel], the whole thing taking place in a cyberpunk universe that reminds me of Neuromancer. In fact, the book has a lot in common with Neuromancer in that it is set in a highly technological universe, involves yakuza-like conglomerates and crime-ridden cities, San Francisco, a corrupted police force, an economy that seems centred on legal drugs and legal prostitution, computer viruses, virtual realities, some lingering influence of a vague Japanese culture, and they are both Philip K. Dick awardees. The major difference with Neuromancer is that the technology is not the point of Altered Carbon, the detective (and muscle) work being the focus. This use of a scifi world and of the possibilities offered by a sort of technological reincarnation makes for a very good plot in that the book does not get mired into endless descriptions but instead provides about the minimum explanation about the way this universe operates. It is delicate to draw the comparison with Neuromancer any further because, first, Neuromancer came twenty-five years ago and, second, Gibson always seemed more interested in the ethical and philosophical implications of this kind of culture. Anyway, Altered Carbon is truly gripping and, while I may have missed some of the intricate details of the plot, I had to rush through it to get the resolution, as in any Chandler‘s story. There are two sequels by Morgan involving Takeshi Kovacs and I am looking forward to them.