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Philip Kerr's superb series with Bernie Gunther continues with Prague Fatale, begins in the autumn of 1941. Europe is at war - though not the world, yet - and the Germans themselves are just beginning to get glimpses and rumors of the horrors their leaders are setting in motion. Gunther is back from Belorussia where he has witnessed the initial massacres. He's been returned to active service as a Berlin homicide detective and is trying to suss out how good a cop he's going to be allowed to be.
But just as the Nazis are everywhere, in everything and into everyone's lives, Gunther's own demon - Reichsprotector Reinhad Heydrich - summons him to an estate outside Prague. There's a manor house mystery afoot and Gunther is the only investigator Heydrich can trust. Heydrich knows Bernie is not a Nazi, but he trusts him as a cop and as a man to find the murderer amongst the other Nazi officials. The fun is listening to Gunther interrogate the high ranking officers who do not like it at all. Gunther is a captain, after all, a measly policeman to boot, but Heydrich has given him full reign to talk to anyone and ask them anything. Gunther doesn't just ruffle feathers - he yanks them out by the handful and sticks one of his continually burning cigarettes into the fresh wound. And we enjoy the hell out of it just like Bernie.
Nothing is as easy or clear as a murder investigation in the middle of the Third Reich. There's the free-floating loyalties of everyone (to Germany, to the Party, or just to themselves?), there are the jackbooted psychopaths and the old guard Germans officers, there are spies, traitors and Czech terrorists - and one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. It is a dicey time to be unaligned. But that's where Gunther has always been.
"Good humor never lasts long in Berlin. The smell of the war wounded in that hospital was asphyxiating. Dying men lay in dusty wards like so much left luggage, while to walk through a hallway or public corridor was to negotiate an obstacle course of rickety old wheelchairs and dirty plaster casts. And if all of that wasn't bad enough, I came out of the hospital and encountered a little squad of Hitler Youth marching down Luisenstrasse - most likely from a trip to see the National Warriors' Monument in the Invaliden Park - their throats full of some stupid warlike song and quite oblivious to the German warrior's true fate that was to be found in the not so glorious charnel house nearby. For the moment I stood and watched these boys with a kind of horror. It was all too easy to think of them as carrying the infection of Nazism - the brownshirted bacilli of death and destruction and typhus of tomorrow." He's set the stage for Wansee but the gas chambers are yet to be built. We know the atrocities that await. Bernie can only fear them.
Never read Philip Kerr? Start with Berlin Noir, an omnibus of the first three Gunther novels. The first is set in 1936 at the time of the Berlin Olympics. The second is set in '39, right before the invasion of Poland. The third is post-war, 1947. Since then, Kerr has let the series float in time, sometimes 'in the past', sometimes in Bernie's present. He's brought him up to the Cold War and Cuba.
Prague Fatale returns to the early 40s with the some of the finest Chandlerian writing you can find - hard dames, thugs and clouds of smoke left by coffin nails, both the kind that are smoked and those that come out of the barrel of a .38 Walther.--JB
A Kirkus Reviews Top Ten Crime Novel for 2012
September 1941: Reinhard Heydrich is hosting a gathering to celebrate his appointment as Reichsprotector of Czechoslovakia. He has chosen his guests with care. All are high-ranking Party members and each is a suspect in a crime as yet to be committed: the murder of Heydrich himself.
Indeed, a murder does occur, but the victim is a young adjutant on Heydrich’s staff, found dead in his room, the door and windows bolted from the inside. Anticipating foul play, Heydrich had already ordered Bernie Gunther to Prague. After more than a decade in Berlin's Kripo, Bernie had jumped ship as the Nazis came to power, setting himself up as a private detective. But Heydrich, who managed to subsume Kripo into his own SS operations, has forced Bernie back to police work. Now, searching for the killer, Gunther must pick through the lives of some of the Reich’s most odious officials.
A perfect locked-room mystery. But because Philip Kerr is a master of the sleight of hand, Prague Fatale is also a tense political thriller: a complex tale of spies, partisan terrorists, vicious infighting, and a turncoat traitor situated in the upper reaches of the Third Reich.
About the Author
Philip Kerr is the author of seven previous Bernie Gunther novels, most recently Field Gray, which was a New York Times bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011. Its predecessor, If the Dead Rise Not, was a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Hardcover Fiction. As. P. B. Kerr, he is the author of the young adult series Children of the Lamp. Kerr lives in London.
Praise for Prague Fatale…
“The allure of these novels is that Bernie is such an interesting creation, a Chandleresque knight errant caught in insane historical surroundings.” —John Powers, Fresh Air, NPR
German private detective Bernie Gunther would have been respected by Philip Marlowe and the two of them would have enjoyed sitting down at a bar and talking. —Jonathan Ames, Salon.com
"Prague Fatale is classic Philip Kerr, a first-person noir detective story worthy of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler in every regard, seamlessly transplanted to war-era Europe. Every time I finish another Gunther novel, I think, “This is as good as it gets.” Then inevitably, the next one comes along and is even better!"--Bruce Tierney, BookPage.com
“Bernie Gunther, the indomitable Berliner at the heart of this great series, is a man pummeled by history. . . . The great strength of Field Gray is Kerr’s overpowering portrait of the war’s horrors, [and] the glue holding it all together is Bernie himself, our battered, defiant German Everyman.”—Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post
“A wily if unreliable narrator, Bernie may be forgiven for holding his cards so close to his chest as he tries to do the right thing in so many wrong places. Shades of the moral ambiguity of some of Graham Greene’s and John le Carré’s more memorable characters are here, as is the spirit of Raymond Chandler’s knight-errant, Philip Marlowe. Kerr’s ability to blend the elements of mystery and spy thriller into a satisfying package makes Field Gray the best in a long line of great entries in the series.”—Paula L. Woods, Los Angeles Times
"In Prague Fatale, [Bernie Gunther] is back in the early days of the Second World War, dealing with a case that combines espionage, terrorism and a locked-room mystery [. . .] Philip Kerr does his usual fine job of setting the scenes and portraying the personalities of the era. His Nazis are note-perfect creations, as are the other characters, fictional and historical, of Second World War-era Europe, all of it flavoured by the wisecracking, tough-talking Gunther, who has been called the Sam Spade of Germany. Kerr knows his modern German history, and is gifted at storytelling, and Gunther is a dark anti-hero for the ages."--H. J. Kirchhoff, The Globe and Mail
"[Philip Kerr] is an absolute master of the genre."--The Courier-Journal
“[Prague Fatale] is clever and compelling, proving once again that the Bernie Gunther books are, by a long chalk, the best crime series around today.” –The Daily Beast
"Inside this mesmerizing novel, set mainly in a country house outside Prague, is a tantalizing locked-door murder mystery that will thrill fans of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels."--Carol Memmott, USA Today