PRAGUE FATALE

Written by Philip Kerr

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


PRAGUE FATALE
Quercus
RRP: £17.99
Released: 27th October 2011
Hbk

In the summer of 1942 Bernie Gunther is looking back at the events of the previous year. He has his own Penge Bungalow Murder to console him when he thinks he has failed as a cop, the capture of Paul Ogorzow, the Berlin S-Bahn killer, and he even has new consolations when a rescue on the railway introduces him to Fraulein Arianne Tauber, who is not unwilling to give Bernie a little company. As the only other femininity close to Bernie are the two Jewish sisters upstairs from his apartment and they are being starved out of the city, for all his help, he is unlikely to resist.

Bernie, back in the Kripo, the Berlin criminal police, is on the hunt for the Three Kings, Czech resistance fighters who may be on the loose in the capital, planning sabotage. Corpses of Dutch migrant workers and rapists dying from road accidents seem to be making the job more difficult, even while Bernie’s memories of what he saw during the advance on the Russian front make him wonder about the German cause altogether. Bernie has never been one to hide his cynicism, but he has skills his bosses appreciate and – while he uses those for the fatherland – the bosses are prepared to overlook it.

Thensomeone who appreciates Bernie more than most summons him from his investigations to open another in Prague. That man is Reinhard Heydrich, as if Mephistopheles has called Faust and not the other way about. Like much of the Nazi leadership, Heydrich appreciates the good life the early Nazi victories have brought, with offices in one castle in the city and a family home in a rural palace, along with the opportunity it has given him to oppress the Slavic Czechs. He has servants, he has adjutants, he has a military apparatus behind him, which allow him time to slip back to Berlin and organise other events there, such as the Wannsee Conference. He seems intent on some similar party at his Bohemian castle, having summonsed many of the leading SD and SS from the region, only to have it ruined when one of his adjutants is found dead. With the security surrounding the conference Bernie finds himself having to investigate a locked palace mystery, wondering whether he is expected to succeed or fail in his job, wondering whether either or both will land him back on the Eastern Front.

Kerr knits fictional and historical characters, while Bernie’s memories and knowledge of the future flow backward and forward. From the Prologue we know that Bernie is writing his recollections after Heydrich’s assassination by the SOE, but Bernie also indicates something of the unattractive pasts and futures (the adjective applies to both) of men such as Konrad Henlein and Karl Frank – in Bernie’s present, though, all want to be thought perfect, reasonable and gentlemanly. If only Heydrich thought that they were – for he has an ulterior motive in bringing together this party. Bernie discovers that only later, as he discovers other ulterior motives, too.

Can Bernie put all this behind him? The lies, confessions and hurt? The agonies brought back from the Eastern Front? Those who have shared his sufferings? There were echoes of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye in Philip Kerr’s earlier If The Dead Not Rise, now Prague Fatale has characters like Chandler’s Terry Lennox, who Marlowe said he never saw again, never seen again by Gunther. I hope we can trust him. If we did, though, we would not have learned what Bernie has learned – trust no one. No one.

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