Archive for Rogue Male

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.

the 39 steps

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2015 by xi'an

I had never read this classic that inspired Hitchcock’s 39 steps (which I neither watched before).  The setting of the book is slightly different from the film: it takes place in England and Scotland a few weeks before the First  World War. German spies are trying to kill a prominent Greek politician [no connection with the current Euro-crisis intended!] and learn about cooperative plans between France and Britain. The book involves no woman character (contrary to the film, where it adds a comical if artificial level). As in Rogue Male, most of the story is about an unlikely if athletic hero getting into the way of those spies and being pursued through the countryside by those spies. Even though the hunt has some intense moments, it lacks the psychological depth of Rogue Male, while the central notion that those spies are so good that they can play other persons’ roles without being recognised is implausible to the extreme, a feature reminding me of the Blake & Mortimer cartoons which may have been inspired by this type of books. Especially The Francis Blake Affair. (Trivia: John Buchan ended up Governor General of Canada.)

Rogue Male [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on October 4, 2014 by xi'an

When I was about to leave a library in Birmingham, I spotted a “buy one get one half-price” book on a pile next to the cashier. Despite a rather weird title, Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male looked classic enough to rank with Graham Green’s Confidential Agent or Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands or yet John Buchan’s 39 Steps… Not mentioning the early Eric Ambler novels. I mean, a classic British thriller with political ramifications and a central character exposed with shortcomings and doubts.  After reading the book last week, I am glad I impulsively bought it. Rogue Male is not a Greene’s novel and this for several reason: (a) it is much more nationalistic, to the point of refusing to contact English authorities for fear of exposing some official backup of the attempted assassination, while Greene seemed to lean more to the Left, (b) it is both less and more psychological, in that it (i) superbly describes the process of getting rogue, i.e. of being hunted and of cutting or trying to cut [some] human feelings to rely on animal instincts for survival but (ii) leaves the overall motivation for Hitler’s attempted assassination and for the hunt by Nazi secret agents mostly unspecified  (c) it involves a very limited number of characters, all of them men, (d) it leaves so much of the action at the periphery that this appears as a weakness of the book… Still, there are some features also found in Greene’s Confidential Agent like the character failing in his attempt and being nearly captured or killed in the ensuing hunt, or the inner doubts about the (un)ethical nature of the fight… (Actually, both Greene and Household worked for the British secret services.) The overall story behind Rogue Male is a wee bit shallow and often too allusive to make sense but the underground part with the final psychological battle is superb. Truly a classic!