Prague Fatale, Philip Kerr’s latest novel was published this week. It features first person narrator Bernie Gunther, a member of the Kripo – the Berlin criminal police, who by refusing to join the Nazi party is languishing wartime Germany. The book opens with Gunther accompanying the body of SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich from Prague to Berlin. As Kerr’s previous books have featured Gunther both before and after the Second World War, this prologue helps identify the background to this book as the period leading up to the assassination of Heydrich by Czech soldiers.
The narrative then moves back a year to 1941 Berlin, where Gunther investigates the killing of a Dutch railway worker and meets the glamorous Arianne after saving her from a potential rapist. These two incidents impact on the later narrative when Gunther is ordered to Prague to protect Heydrich, the recently appointed Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Although Heydrich fears for his life, it is one of his adjutant’s Albert Kuttner who is killed. Gunther, still reeling from his experiences of participating in Jewish killings in the Ukraine identifies with Kuttner’s distress over witnessing similar atrocities in Latvia.
What follows is classic Kerr who, as usual, mixes a fine detective story with well researched historical detail. Kerr writes with a sense of irony which is so important when dealing with characters who are frankly repulsive. In his investigation Gunther, in effect, interviews all of the top ranking Nazi’s in Prague and it is a credit to Kerr’s writing that they are not portrayed as a homogenous whole, but individual characters and traits are revealed. Kerr also acknowledges but doesn’t allow to dominate the forthcoming holocaust, only a rumour at this time, but important to remember given that Heydrich was one of the main architects of the genocide.
I was a little concerned at the start of the book that the plot reminded me a little of Robert Harris’ Fatherland, although this may have been due to the presence of Heydrich in both books. Also there are some repetitions of earlier plot themes – Gunther’s susceptibility for the femme fatale for example. But the beauty of this book is Kerr’s writing, which is both humourous and sobering. At the end of the narrative, we get as usual a round-up of the real life fates of the characters. It is grim reading and perhaps essential given the lap of luxury that the characters inhibit during this period of the war. So an excellent read as usual, and eagerly awaited as I downloaded it immediately to my Kindle.
On another note I’m a bit behind with my reviews as my first book Lip Service was longlisted for the Mslexia novel competition on Thursday and I have been working to get the full manuscript submitted to the judging panel. Good news that a crime novel has made it into the longlist!