Review: Prague Fatale (2011) by Philip Kerr

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Quercus, 2011. Format: Kindle Edition. File size: 1043 KB. Print Length: 413 pages. eBook ISBN: 978 1 78 087 143 1. ASIN: B005W0ARFQ. 

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September 1941: Bernie Gunther returns from the horrors of the Eastern Front to find his home city of Berlin changed, and changed for the worse. The blackout, rationing, the RAF, the S-Bahn murderer and Czech terrorists are all conspiring to make life very unpleasant. Now back at his old desk on Homicide in Kripo HQ, Alexanderplatz, Bernie starts to investigate the death of a Dutch railway worker, while starting something—of an entirely different nature—with a local good-time girl.

But he is obliged to drop everything when his old boss, Reinhard Heydrich of the SD, the new Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, orders him to Prague to spend a weekend at his country house. It’s an invitation Bernie feels he would gladly have been spared, especially when he meets his fellow guests—all of them senior loathsome figures in the SS and SD.

The weekend turns sour almost immediately, when a body is found in a room that was locked from the inside. The spotlight falls on Bernie to show off his investigative skills and solve this seemingly impossible mystery. And if he fails to do so, he knows what is at stake—not only his reputation, but also that of Heydrich, a man who does not like to lose face. (Source: Quercus publicity page)

Although Prague Fatale is the eighth instalment in the series featuring Bernie Gunther, it can be read as a standalone since the rest of the books in the series do not follow a chronological order. In fact, only in the first two novels, the action unfolds some years before. The story is told in the first person by Bernie Gunther himself after a prologue dated in 1942. In a sense, it can be said that the book is narrated in a flashback. As it is customary in the series, Philip Kerr makes use of real characters that fit perfectly well into the fiction, which increases the credibility of the story. In my view this is a very attractive crime book that can also be of the liking to historical fiction enthusiasts. Though, as a detective novel, it is closer to hard boiled fiction, it’s quite interesting to highlight that at the centre of the story there’s an impossible crime, a classic locked room murder, that our ‘hero’ will have to investigate, in clear homage to Agatha Christie. I am not in position to consider Prague Fatale the best in the series, in fact I’ve only read so far, March Violets and A Man Without Breath (you can access my reviews clicking on the titles), but Prague Fatale certainly has enough merits to be included among the best ones.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

Born in Edinburgh, Kerr was educated there and at a grammar school in Northampton. He studied law at the University of Birmingham from 1974 to 1980, eventually gaining a master’s degree. Kerr worked as an advertising copywriter for Saatchi and Saatchi before becoming a full-time writer in 1989. A writer of both adult fiction and non-fiction, he is known for the Bernie Gunther series of thrillers set during the Weimar Republic, World War II and the Cold War. The eleventh book in the series, The Other Side of Silence, will go on sale next 29th March. If the Dead Rise Not (2009) the sixth instalment in the series, won the CWA Ellis Peters Award in 2009 for Best Historical Novel. He has also written children’s books under the name P.B. Kerr, including the Children of the Lamp series. Kerr has written for The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard and the New Statesman.

Prague Fatale has been reviewed at Euro Crime (Laura), The View from the Blue House (Rob), reviewingtheevidence (Yvonne), Crime Scraps Review (Norman), Crimepieces (Sarah)

Quercus publicity page

Penguin publicity page

Bernie Gunther the fan site 

Bernie Gunther at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

Philip Kerr website

Praga mortal de Philip Kerr

Septiembre 1941: Bernie Gunther regresa de los horrores del frente oriental para encontrar su ciudad natal, Berlín cambiada, y cambiada a peor. El apagón, el racionamiento, la RAF, el asesino del metro y los terroristas checos están todos conspirando para hacer la vida muy desagradable. Ahora, de vuelta a su viejo despacho en homicidios en el cuartel general de la policía criminal en Alexanderplatz, Bernie comienza a investigar la muerte de un trabajador ferroviario holandés, mientras inicia algo de naturaleza totalmente distinta, con una chica de alterne de la localidad.

Pero se ve obligado a dejarlo todo, cuando su antiguo jefe, Reinhard Heydrich del SD, el nuevo Reichsprotektor de Bohemia y Moravia, le ordena ir a Praga para pasar un fin de semana en su casa de campo. Es una invitación que Bernie siente que le hubiera gustado haberse ahorrado, sobre todo cuando se encuentra con el resto de los invitados, todos ellos detestables altos cargos de las SS y del SD.

El fin de semana se vuelve amargo casi de inmediato, cuando se encuentra un cuerpo en una habitación que estaba cerrada por dentro. El centro de atención recae sobre Bernie que debe mostrar sus habilidades como investigador y resolver este misterio que parece imposible. Y si no lo hace, él sabe lo que está en juego no sólo su reputación, sino también la de Heydrich, un hombre al que no le gusta quedar mal. (Fuente: página de publicidad de Quercus, mi traducción libre)

Aunque Praga mortal es la octava entrega de la serie protagonizada por Bernie Gunther, se puede leer como una novela independiente ya que el resto de los libros de la serie no siguen un orden cronológico. De hecho, sólo en las dos primeras novelas, la acción se desarrolla algunos años antes. La historia está contada en primera persona por el propio Bernie Gunther después de un prólogo fechado en 1942. En cierto sentido, se puede decir que el libro está narrado en un flashback. Como es habitual en la serie, Philip Kerr hace uso de personajes reales que se ajustan perfectamente a la ficción, lo que aumenta la credibilidad de la historia. En mi opinión, este es un libro de misterio muy atractivo, que también puede ser del agrado de los entusiastas de la novela histórica. Aunque, como novela de detectives, se acerca más a la ficción “hardoiled”, es muy interesante destacar que en el centro de la historia hay un delito imposible, un clásico asesinato de habitación cerrada, que nuestro “héroe” tendrá que investigar, en claro homenaje a Agatha Christie. Yo no estoy en condiciones de considerar Praga mortal el mejor de la serie, de hecho, sólo he leído hasta ahora, Violeta de marzo y Un hombre sin aliento (se puede acceder a mis reseñas haciendo clic en los títulos), pero Praga motal sin duda tiene méritos suficientes para estar incluido entre los mejores.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Nacido en Edimburgo, Kerr fue educado allí y en una escuela primaria en Northampton. Estudió derecho en la Universidad de Birmingham de 1974 a 1980, y finalmente obtuvo el grado de máster. Kerr trabajó como redactor publicitario en Saatchi y Saatchi antes de convertirse en escritor a tiempo completo en 1989. Un escritor tanto de libros de ficción para adultos como de no ficción, conocido por la serie de novelas de misterio de Bernie Gunther ambientadas durante la República de Weimar, la Segunda Guerra Mundial y la Guerra Fría. El undécimo libro de la serie, The Other Side of Silence, se pondrán a la venta el próximo 29 de marzo. Si los muertos no resucitan (2009) la sexta entrega de la serie, ganó el Premio Peters Ellis CWA en 2009 a la Mejor Novela Histórica así como el III Premio RBA de Novela Negra 2009. También ha escrito libros para niños con el nombre de P. B. Kerr, entre los que se encuentra la serie Children of the Lamp . Kerr ha escrito para The Sunday Times, el Evening Standard y el New Statesman.

RBA Serie Negra

OT: Beronia Selección de 198 Barricas Reserva 2008

Last Christmas I had the opportunity to taste Beronia 198 Barricas Reserva 2008. It was a present, and though I bring here mainly wines below € 12, I have made an exception on this occasion. Something that I will allow me doing occasionally, as long as the price is within a reasonable limit, more suitable as a gift than for regular consumption. Needless to say I very much enjoyed this wine. Superb!

By the way, Beronia Crianza (Tasting Notes PDF) is available in Madrid at Licores Lafuente at € 6,60. Though it has not been commented here, it’s one of my favourite wines, a classic Rioja that will never disappoint us.

  • 20151231_215656 Winery: Bodegas Beronia S.A. Carretera de Ollauri a Nájera, km.1,8. 26220 Ollauri-La Rioja. Spain. Beronia was founded in 1973 by a group of businessmen, friends from the Basque country who would come to La Rioja on holiday. The friends had a great love of food and wine and created their own gastronomic society , or txoko as it is called locally, in the area. They decided, to produce their own wines to enjoy with the local cuisine,  specialising in Reserva and Gran Reserva style wines. The winery was integrated into the González Byass Family of Wine group in 1982 and began an expansion into international markets. Today Beronia is one of the most renowned Spanish wineries both in international and domestic markets, producing pure and traditional Rioja wines with their own personality and Beronia style.  
  • Phone: + 34 941 338 000.
  • Winemaker: Matias Calleja
  • Website: www.beronia.com
  • Brand: 198 Barricas
  • DO: DOCa Rioja
  • Type: Reserva Red Wine. Ageing: 24 months in the best 198 mixed oak barrels, American staves and French tops.
  • Vintage:  2008
  • Alcohol: 14% vol
  • Grape Variety: 90% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano, 4% Mazuelo
  • Vineyards: The winery is surrounded by 25 hectares of own vineyards. In addition the Beronia technical team control 870 hectares of specially selected vineyards, situated within a 10km radius of the winery therefore maintaining the Rioja Alta character. The average age of these vineyards is 30 years however 50 hectares are more than 60 years old.
  • Soil Type: Bodegas Beronia is situated in the village of Ollauri, in the heart of Rioja Alta.  The area has a number of different micro-climates depending on the orientation of the vineyard and the protection from the winds from the Ebro valley. The soils have a balanced structure of sand, sediments and clay, with low alkalinity and little organic material, making them ideal for the production of quality wines Rioja’s winters are cold with snow in January, while summers are mild. The rainfall is modest and dispersed throughout the whole year (600l/m2). The climate, the protection from the Atlantic influence and the richness of the minerals from the river Ebro, make Rioja an ideal area for the cultivation vines. 
  • Bottle Size: 75.0 cl.
  • Price: Available at Beronia website here at € 22.00.  
  • My wine rating: 97/100 (A wine of distinction) NEW!

VINTAGE: The 2008 vintage finished at the beginning of November with a slightly lower production than in previous years. The vegetative cycle was satisfactory and the climatology was exceptionally favourable during the final phase being decisive in the high quality of the harvest. Due to these favourable conditions the sanitary state of the grape was near perfect. The 2008 harvest was classified by the Rioja Regulatory Council as Very Good as it showed extremely high quality allowing for the production of exceptional wines.

WINEMAKING: This wine is only produced in the best years and is fruit of an exhaustive selection of the best Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. The grapes undergo cold maceration before fermentation in order to extract colour and aromas. Alcoholic fermentation is then carried out at controlled temperature of below 26ºC with periodic pumping over. The wine is then aged in a selection of the best 198 new mixed barrels with American staves and French tops for 24 months. The wine was bottled in September 2011 and will remain a minimum of 2 years in bottle before being released to the market.

WINEMAKER’S NOTES: Beronia 198 Barricas 2008 shows an intense deep cherry red colour with red brick tones. On the nose it is intense and spicy with notes of tobacco mixed with chocolate, nuts and dried fruits. On the palate it is balanced and elegant with mature fruit and reminders of chocolate and spices. The good structure and silky smooth finish stand out.

SERVING AND PAIRING: Perfect with red meats such as T-Bone steak and mature goats cheese. Serve between 15º and 17ºC. Recommended consumption now until 2020 if kept in optimum conditions. (Source: Beronia Website)

Film Notes: Theeb (2014) directed by Naji Abu Nowar

JO – UK – AE – QA / 100 minutes / color /Immortal Entertainment, Bayt Al Shawareb, Noor Pictures Dir: Naji Abu Nowar Pro: Bassel Ghandour, Rupert Lloyd Scr: Bassel Ghandour, Naji Abu Nowar Cine: Wolfgang Thaler Mus: Jerry Lane Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox Release Date: (Venice Film Festival) 4 September 2014. (Toronto International Film Festival) 8 September 2014 (London Film Festival) 11 October 2014 (FILMADRID International Film Festival) 9 June 2015.

Theeb premiered in the Horizons section at the 71st Venice International Film Festival on 4 September 2014, where Abu Nowar won the award for Best Director. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, making it the first Jordanian nomination ever. At the 69th British Academy Film Awards, Theeb was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. (Source: Wikipedia)

3170902 Synopsis: 1916. While war rages in the Ottoman Empire, Hussein raises his younger brother Theeb (“Wolf”) in a traditional Bedouin community that is isolated by the vast, unforgiving desert. The brothers’ quiet existence is suddenly interrupted when a British Army officer and his guide ask Hussein to escort them to a water well located along the old pilgrimage route to Mecca. So as not to dishonour his recently deceased father, Hussein agrees to lead them on the long and treacherous journey. The young, mischievous Theeb secretly chases after his brother, but the group soon find themselves trapped amidst threatening terrain riddled with Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries, and outcast Bedouin raiders. Naji Abu Nowar’s powerful and assured directorial debut, set in the land of Lawrence of Arabia, is a wondrous “Bedouin Western” about a boy who, in order to survive, must become a man and live up to the name his father gave him. (Source: Official Website)

Background

In Bedouin law, if a stranger arrives at your tent requesting refuge, you must grant him protection until the threat can be peacefully resolved. This is known as the law of Dakheel and it is considered a sacred duty for a host to protect his Dakheel, no matter what the circumstance. Indeed, there are many stories of a host granting protection to his guest only to discover the Dakheel has killed a member of the host’s own family. But surprisingly this will not deter the host from his duty; he will protect the killer until peace has been made between them. A man’s reputation is defined by what he does in such difficult circumstances. The more impossible the situation the more respect he receives for upholding the law.

Bedouin customs like this have grown from their environment, the desert. They are renowned for their generous hospitality because in the desert you must be able to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. The terrain is too harsh, water and food too scarce for selfish behaviour. People need to help each other to ensure their mutual existence. It was the combination of a culture of cooperation for survival and a Dakheel type moral dilemma that formed the initial idea for Theeb. What would happen if you were stranded with your worst enemy but needed their help to stay alive? How would this relationship develop?

To overcome such a merciless predicament, a person would have to develop incredible strength of character. In Bedouin culture, a boy who endured such an ordeal would be called a Theeb (“Wolf”). If someone calls you a wolf, you have earned their respect as a man of daring and cunning, a person who can achieve impossible feats. The wolf is an ambiguous creature both revered and feared, it is both a pack animal, loyal to its tribe, and a strong individual capable of existing by itself. So to be named Theeb at birth is to have the expectation of greatness placed upon you. To survive the boy must live up to the name his father gave him. But his success would be tainted by the tragic loss of childhood innocence. Naji Abu Nowar (Source: Official Website)

Naji Abu Nowar was born in England and lives in Amman, Jordan. He wrote and directed the short film Death of a Boxer (09). Theeb (14) is his debut feature film. (Source: Toronto International Film Festival)

A few days ago I had the chance to watch Theeb in a private screening, a film that, unfortunately, I do not think it will find its way in the commercial circuit, at least in Spain. Quite a pity. Without being a superb film, it certainly deserves a wider audience. Don’t miss it, if you have the opportunity.

cynephilia (Film review)

The Hollywood Reporter (Film review)

Official Website

Review: The Studio Crime (1929) by Ianthe Jerrold

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Dean Street Press, 2015. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 909 KB. Print Length: 294 pages. First published in 1929. ISBN: 978 1 910570 29 6. ASIN: B00UQYY7QI. 

descarga

Description: On a fog-bound London night, a soirée is taking place in the studio of artist Laurence Newtree. The guests include an eminent psychiatrist, a wealthy philanthropist and an observant young friend of Newtree’s, John Christmas. Before the evening is over, Newtree’s neighbour is found stabbed to death in what appears to be an impossible crime. But a mysterious man in a fez has been spotted in the fog asking for highly unlikely directions… The resourceful John Christmas takes on the case, unofficially, leading to an ingenious solution no one could have expected, least of all Inspector Hembrow of Scotland Yard. The Studio Crime is the first of Ianthe Jerrold’s classic whodunit novels, originally published in 1929. Its impact led to her membership of the elite Detection Club, and its influence can be felt on later works by John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers among others. This edition, the first in eighty years, includes a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans. (Source: Dean Street Press publicity page)

Ianthe Jerrold was born in 1898, the daughter of the well-known author and journalist Walter Jerrold, and granddaughter of the Victorian playwright Douglas Jerrold. She was the eldest of five sisters. She published her first book, a work of verse, at the age of fifteen. This was the start of a long and prolific writing career characterized by numerous stylistic shifts. In 1929 she published the first of two classic and influential whodunits. The Studio Crime gained her immediate acceptance into the recently-formed but highly prestigious Detection Club, and was followed a year later by Dead Man’s Quarry.Ianthe Jerrold subsequently moved on from pure whodunits to write novels ranging from romantic fiction to psychological thrillers. She continued writing and publishing her fiction into the 1970’s. She died in 1977, twelve years after her husband George Menges. Their Elizabethan farmhouse Cwmmau was left to the National Trust. (Source: Dean Street Press publicity page). Dean Street Press has reissued this January, two forgotten mysteries written by Ianthe Jerrold under the pseudonym “Geraldine Bridgman” (Let Him Lie and There Might Be Danger).

Thanks to my recent interest in mystery novels of the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction, I’ve come across The Studio Crime by Ianthe Jerrold, a book that has been recently rescued from oblivion thanks to Dean Street Press. It involves an impossible crime, a traditional locked-room mystery, well-written, intelligent and splattered with a good dose of humour. The story, after all, turns out to be quite convincing and rests in a number of rather peculiar characters, when not downright eccentric, that end up being fairly credible and even endearing in some cases. In essence, an entertaining and enjoyable novel, which I don’t hesitate in recommending. A delightful text which is well worth reading.

My rating: B (I really liked it)

The Studio Crime has been reviewed at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, crossexaminingcrime, Past Offences, The Passing Tramp, among others.

Dean Street Press publicity page

The Studio Crime de Ianthe Jerrold

Descripción: En una noche londinense de niebla espesa, una velada tiene lugar en el estudio del artista Laurence Newtree. Entre los invitados se encuentran un eminente psiquiatra, un rico filántropo y un joven observador amigo de Newtree, John Christmas. Antes de que acabe la tarde, el vecino de Newtree es encontrado muerto apuñalado en lo que parece ser un crimen imposible. Pero un hombre misterioso con un fez ha sido visto entre la niebla preguntando por unas direcciones bastante improbables … El ingenioso John Christmas se hace cargo del caso, extraoficialmente, que nos llevará a una solución ingeniosa que nadie podría haber esperado, y menos aún el inspector Hembrow de Scotland Yard. The Studio Crime es la primera de las clásicas novelas “whodunit” de Ianthe Jerrold, publicada originalmente en 1929. Su impacto le llevó a formar parte del elitista Detention Club, y su influencia se puede sentir en obras posteriores de John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh y Dorothy L. Sayers entre otros. Esta edición, la primera en ochenta años, incluye una nueva introducción a cargo del historiador de novela policíaca Curtis Evans. (Fuente: Dean Street Press, mi traducción libre)

Ianthe Jerrold nació en 1898, hija del muy conocido autor y periodista Walter Jerrold, y nieta del dramaturgo victoriano Douglas Jerrold. Fue la mayor de cinco hermanas. Publicó su primer libro, una obra en verso, a la edad de quince años. Este fue el comienzo de una larga y prolífica carrera como escritora caracterizada por numerosos giros estilísticos. En 1929 publicó la primera de dos novelas policíacas clásicas e influyentes. The Studio Crime (El crimen del estudio) le llevó de inmediato a ser aceptada en el reción creado pero muy prestigioso Detention Club, al que siguió un año más tarde Dead Man’s Quarry (La cantera del muerto). Ianthe Jerrold posteriormente se pasó, de las puras novelas de detectives, a escribir novelas que abarcan desde novelas románticas hasta thrillers psicológicos. Continuó escribiendo y publicando sus novelas hasta la década de los 70. Murió en 1977, doce años después del fallecimiento de su marido George Menges. Su casa de campo isabelina Cwmmau fue para una organización benéfica, The National Trust. (Fuente: Dean Street Press mi traducción libre). Dean Street Press ha reeditado este mes de enero, dos novelas de misterio olvidadas escritas por Ianthe Jerrold con el seudónimo de “Geraldine Bridgman” (Let Him Lie y There Might Be Danger).

Gracias a mi reciente interés por las novelas de misterio de la así llamada Edad de Oro de la novela policíaca, me he encontrado con The Studio Crime de Ianthe Jerrold, un libro que ha sido rescatado recientemente del olvido gracias a Dean Street Press. Se trata de un crimen imposible, un tradicional misterio de cuarto cerrado, bien escrito, inteligente y salpicado con una buena dosis de humor. La historia, después de todo, resulta ser suficientemente convincente y se apoya en una serie de personajes bastante peculiares, cuando no francamente excéntricos, que terminan siendo convenientemente creíbles e incluso entrañables en algunos casos. En síntesis, una novela entretenida y agradable, que no dudo en recomendar. Un texto delicioso que merece la pena leer. 

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó mucho)

OT: Best Foreign Language Film

As you may know, I’m only interested in the Foreign Language Film category. The nominees to the 88th Academy Awards are:

A War (Denmark) Directed by Tobias Lindholm. Synopsis: Claus Pedersen, a Danish army commander in Afghanistan, does his best to lead his men with integrity and maintain their morale after one of their young comrades is killed by a landmine. During an unexpected siege, Claus makes a split-second decision that will have a life-changing effect on him, his company and his family. Thus far, there’s no release date in Spain from what I know. You can watch the trailer here.

Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia) Directed by Ciro Guerra. Synopsis: In 1909, Colombian shaman Karamakate guides German explorer Theo on an expedition through the Amazonian wilderness to locate a sacred plant, which may cure Theo’s puzzling illness. Forty years later, Karamakate again witnesses the changes wrought by Westerners on the region’s indigenous peoples when he embarks on a similar journey with an American scientist. Release date in Spain: 19 February 2016. You can watch the trailer here.

Mustang (France) Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Synopsis: Five orphaned, teenage sisters enjoy the summer in their village in northern Turkey, but one day, their romping with male friends is misinterpreted and reported to their family as sexual licentiousness. Determined to keep the girls pure, the family effectively imprisons them, prompting the girls to become even more closely knit as they rebel against their arranged marriages. Release date in Spain: 11 March 2016. You can watch the trailer here.

Son of Saul (Hungary) Directed by László Nemes. Synopsis: In October 1944, Saul Ausländer is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners forced to lead other inmates in Auschwitz-Birkenau to their deaths and dispose of their bodies in the crematoriums. One day, Saul finds a young boy and, taking him for his son, tries to arrange for a proper Jewish funeral for him. Release date in Spain: 15 January 2016. You can watch the trailer here.

Theeb (Jordan) Directed by Naji Abu Nowar. Synopsis: In Hejaz province, Arabia, recently orphaned brothers Hussein and Theeb, who live a traditional Bedouin life, are caught up in the world events of 1916 when a British officer asks them to guide him through the desert to strategically important Ottoman train tracks. Their journey, fraught with danger, leads them in an unanticipated direction. Thus far, there’s no release date in Spain from what I know. You can watch the trailer here.