19 July 2017

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For once, I manage to write my book reviews on a Wednesday.

Sam Bourne: To Kill the President

It was to be expected: the first Donald Trump era thriller (that I've read). Which takes full advantage of the fact that when previously any critic worth their salt would have complained about the one dimensional characterisation of the villains and the lack of realism in the US voting someone like that into power and then the Republican Party falling in line, followed by no checks and balances from any institution after even the Supreme Court caves due to the stolen seat being filled by the new President's choice, now all this looks like, well, realism.

Spoilers from an age where reality beggars caricature )


Philip Kerr: March Violets.

This is the first novel of a mystery series which I heard/read about via The New Yorker. The article in question was enthusiastic enought to overcome my instinctive squick at the premise, to wit: hard-boiled/noir detective novel set in the Third Reich. Basically, what if Philip Marlowe was German? Wandering those mean streets as a cynic with an ethical core takes a whole new meaning if the authories aren't just corrupt but a dictatorship preparing for war and genocide. Our hero is Bernie Gunther, former policeman who quit the force in 1933 for the obvious reason given that the novel positions he has ethics, and became a private investigator instead. Kerr serves up all the usual hard boiled/ noir tropes - untrustworthy millionaire clients, corrupt cops, shady dames -, complete with Chandleresque language, and he did his research - the novel's setting is Berlin in 1936, around the Olympic Games, and in addition to the well drawn Berlin geography, there are some great nods to Fritz Lang's movie M via some of the supporting cast, gangsters (given that Bernie Gunther originally gets hired to recover some diamonds, though of course it turns out it's far more complicated and what everyone is after is something else altogether. The brief appearances by historic figures (Göring and Heydrich, to be precise) are drawn credibly, which is to say their vileness comes across without Kerr employing sledge-hammery moustache twirling; in fact, he uses Göring's bonhommie manners to make him chilling.

As opposed to To Kill a President, this actually is a good novel. But. I still struggle somewhat with the basic premise. This is the first novel of what according ot the New Yorker article I'd read are twelve so far, and already I'm having to suspend disbelief about Bernie's continued survival. There's no reason why Heydrich at the end of this first novel shouldn't have gotten him killed, for example. And since we're in 1936, Bernie would still have the possibility to leave the country, and given what happens to him in this novel, it's hard to wonder why he doesn't, given he has no dependants who'd suffer for it. Yes, the decision to emigrate wasn't as easy as hindsight would have it if you weren't rich and didn't have friends abroad, but again, some truly harrowing things happen to Bernie in this novel which would serve as an incentive to get the hell out of Germany if ever there was one beyond the general situation of the country.

With this caveat, I'll keep reading.

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