Quercus, £17.99, 416pp. £16.19 from The Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Prague Fatale, By Philip Kerr

 

How many lives can Bernie Gunther have? The dogged Berlin policeman of Philip Kerr is now enjoying – if that's the word – his eighth. The Gunther books appear out of chronological sequence, but the protagonist remains consistent, stoical, appalled by others and himself, carrying the darkly flaming torch of gallows humour. After South America, Cuba and the US in the 1950s, he's back in the Second World War, this time in the service of the monster Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotector of Bohemia. It is September 1941.

Gunther would rather investigate proper murders in Berlin, but he is summoned to Prague to a house party of high-ranking Nazis at Heydrich's rural residence (a castle, naturally) to act as his bodyguard. The Reichsprotector's concerns, apart from his feud with Himmler, include the Czech resistance and the presence of a spy in the SS. But Gunther is diverted into investigating the killing of one of Heydrich's adjutants.

This is a locked-room murder, worthy of Agatha Christie, whose novels Heydrich seems to enjoy in the intervals of his super-human schedule. We glimpse his crowded diary, including an appointment in Wannsee. That tactfully positioned moment of horror rather outdoes the overcrowded population of the castle: like Christie characters, the Nazis tend to blend into one other.

The plot is skilfully contrived, with a trapdoor built into the form, but less interesting than Gunther's observations. He struggles to preserve something of himself from the moral destruction in which he has already been obliged to participate while serving in a police execution unit on the Eastern Front. Now he finds a distorting mirror in the wry pragmatism of his assistant, Kahlo, who describes himself as "a steak", brown on the outside but red in the middle.

Kahlo needs promotion to afford a family. Gunther's wife, though, is long dead, killed by the 1919 influenza epidemic, and he knows there is no future in his affair with the beautiful bar girl Arianne. The truth of this is laid out in horrifying and perhaps gratuitous detail when Gunther learns the real facts of the case – a reminder, perhaps, that Nazism is rather more than a sinister form of entertainment. If so, Kerr may be asking too much of his chosen form.

Nevertheless, Prague Fatale remains as absorbing as its companions in the series. Unlike some writers of historical thrillers, Kerr is able to let period detail live its own life. The early passages, where Gunther investigates the killing of a foreign worker on a Berlin S-Bahn station, are particularly effective: the blacked-out city is hospitable to murder, food is short and it is reported that the tapir in the city zoo has been stolen and eaten. On the radio, Hitler and Goebbels instruct the nation to give to Winter Relief. The Wehrmacht has reached Kiev, and nothing can go wrong, surely. Kerr depicts this deranged normality with unfussy authority.

Sean O'Brien's 'November' (Picador) is shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam