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Prague Fatale: A Bernie Gunther Novel…

Prague Fatale: A Bernie Gunther Novel (Bernie Gunther Mystery 8) (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Philip Kerr

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Title:Prague Fatale: A Bernie Gunther Novel (Bernie Gunther Mystery 8)
Authors:Philip Kerr
Info:Quercus (2012), Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library, Crime etc
Tags:detective, thriller

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Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr (2011)



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A while ago I read March Violets, the first in Philip Kerr’s series featuring Bernie Gunther, a detective in Berlin during the Third Reich.

Initially I was gripped by the story, but it soon went off in a direction I did not particularly care for.

Yet, here I am years later reading another Bernie Gunther novel. Why? What for? – you may ask. Well, the plot of this one sounded a bit more interesting. A bit more like a proper whodunit in the style of Agatha Christie.

However it turned out to be a very different book than I expected. I thought it was going to be a claustrophobic affair, only a few characters trapped in a confined space, something like that. Instead it is almost your usual noir mystery.

After a promising opening where Bernie Gunther muses about committing suicide while cleaning his gun we are treated to a rather common hardboiled plot about a decent man trying to do the right thing. It is the autumn of 1941 and the German army has invaded Russia. Life is getting tight in Berlin, since food is scarce, because everything is sent to the front lines and confiscated for the soldiers. When a headless body is found on the railway tracks Bernie Gunther who now works for the official police force is called to investigate. Soon the murder turns out to be about a Czech spy ring the members of which were sent to Germany to commit terrorist attacks.

Yet before the investigation can be closed Reinhard Heydrich invites Bernie Gunther to Prague, or perhaps we should say, he orders him there. For some reason Gunther enjoys Heydrich’s protection despite being very outspoken and critical about the Nazi regime. “from time to time I’m useful to him in the same way a toothpick might be useful to a cannibal.” – Gunther remarks about his relationship to Heydrich.

Heydrich appoints Bernie to the post of his personal bodyguard, since he fears to be assassinated by Czech resistance. The main bulk of the plot takes place in a manor house outside of Prague where Heydrich and his party have taken up residence. We also learn that Heydrich enjoys reading mystery novels, he even mentions Hercule Poirot (which would be proof I guess, that nobody is all bad, even a truly despicable person might have some redeeming features).

The inevitable happens and a crime is committed. A member of Heydrich’s entourage is killed inside his locked bedroom. So, yes this is a locked-room mystery, just not a very original one, the mechanics of the murder will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of this subgenre. The surprise here lies in the motive.

I am probably not spoiling anything by telling you that Heydrich turns out to be every bit the monster one would expect. I recently watched the movie Operation Anthropoid about the Heydrich assassination and I have also read Laurent Binet’s HHhH about the same events, but the man remained a bit of an enigma to me. He was evil, yes, but was there anything else to him? Philip Kerr paints him as a remorseless sadist and master manipulator, but he is not a particularly fascinating villain, more like your average workplace bully.

Prague Fatale is an interesting glimpse into a dark historical time, but not really the atmospheric traditional mystery novel I was hoping for. ( )
  TheRavenking | Apr 4, 2017 |
It’s 1941 and Bernie is back in Berlin from his work with the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), the intelligence arm of the SS (the Kripo, Kriminalpolizei, or German equivalent to CID, were under the SD.). Having been exposed there the the truly awful ethnic cleansing and retribution of the “special action” squads who were killing rather indiscriminately, he’s considering suicide. Always skeptical of Naziism, he’s dragged into an investigation of a railway worker who had been murdered and then left on the tracks to be dismembered by a train. It gets complicated when he saves a bar-girl from what he thinks is a rape, only to discover she’s linked to Czech terrorists being sought by the Gestapo. There may be a connection as well to the man on the tracks.

But then things get worse when General Heydrich demands his presence in Prague to act as his quasi-bodyguard. (Reinhard Heydrich, also known as the “Butcher of Prague” was probably one of the least sympathetic characters to come out of Nazi Germany.) When one of Heydrich’s adjutants is murdered in a locked room, Bernie gets permission from Heydrich to be as impertinent as necessary in order to solve the crime. Here the writing sparkles with wit as Bernie gets to mouth off and intimidate all the SS generals. To complicate things even further, Bernie learns everyone except the adjutants and himself, has been invited to the Prague Castle because they are under suspicion as being a traitor running a radio link with the British.

I listened to this as an audiobook. Very well read (except for some German mispronunciations -- I do wish they would get readers who are at least quasi-fluent in foreign language words that appear in the books they read ), but I found one peculiarity. Throughout the book, which was not translated, but written in English, Hitler is referred to as “the Leader,” a literal translation of “Der Führer.” I think we’ve all become so accustomed to the German title that using “leader” somehow grates. Especially when other words, like Kripo, Kirche, Herr, Kommissar, Wehrmacht, and others are left in German.

Very entertaining. I’ve read many of the Bernie Gunther series and like them all, although the Berlin trilogy, the first three, a.k.a. Berlin Noir, are perhaps the best of the bunch. This is listed as #8. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Jun 27, 2014 |
I enjoyed this very much but at times felt a slightly guilty pleasure in my enjoyment of the almost Agatha-Christie-like countryhouse murder. It didn't feel right when the prospective 'victims' were such real and evil people, rather than purely fictional people. ( )
  eliza.graham.180 | Apr 28, 2014 |
No the series hasn't lost its steam, which impressive on book 8. Kerr took a long hiatus from Bernie Gunther between books 3 and 4 and that may contribute to the series' continued vitality.

Still too much cliche-noir wisecracking, and Kerr seems to have lost the ability to make the Nazis truly menacing and noisome. Otherwise still a solid mystery series with an interesting lead facing real dilemmas.

It is perhaps this increasing normalization of the Nazis that will/should end the series. In earlier books the Nazis were fearsome and perverse. As we spend more and more time with them, they become alarmingly normal-seeming. There's definitely a way to use this effect positively, but I think it'll be increasingly difficult for Kerr to avoid having us actually accepting these horrible people. ( )
  ehines | Apr 22, 2014 |
I lost most of my library a couple of years ago in a fire. Now, I'm buying and rereading some of my all-time favorite authors and Philip Kerr is certainly up there at the top of my list. His Bernie Gunther series follows the life of a cop through the mid 1930's to the early 1950's, as he changes jobs, ( private eye,S.S.investigator, hotel dick) and strives simply to survive the awful times of Fascist insanity that are beyond his control. He's tough, clever, and a true smart-ass, which I enjoy very much. Kerr, has made these much more than crime novels, he creates an atmosphere of the times that comes across quite honestly. ( )
  rudeboy99 | Sep 24, 2013 |
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Per a la Jane, una altra vegada
Once again, to Jane
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Dilluns-dimarts (8-9 de juny de 1942).
Feia una dia radiant quan vaig arriba a l'estació Anhalter de Berlín, de tornada de Praga, juntament amb l'SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, Reichsprotector de Bohèmia i Moràvia.
It was a fine warm day when, together with SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, the Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, I arrived back from Prague at Berlin's Anhalter Station.
Working for Heydrich was like being friendly with a vicious tom cat while you were looking around for the nearest mouse hole.
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In 1941 Prague, private detective Bernie Gunther must sort through a roomful of murderous high-ranking Nazi Party members to discover who killed a young member of Reinhard Heydrich's staff.

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