Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

Prague FataleAnd we kick off 2013 with an author that I spent most of 2012 not getting round to reading – Philip Kerr. Kerr is a writer of many things, both fiction and non-fiction, but his primary contribution to the crime fiction genre is Bernie Gunther, a policeman in Berlin during the Nazi regime.

In Prague Fatale, Bernie is investigating the stabbing of a railway worker when he runs into, and falls for, a sometime working girl, Arianne Tauber. While he indulges in a minor cover-up to keep her name out of things when it is revealed that she has acted as an unwitting courier for a conspiracy against the Nazis, he is summoned to Prague by Heydrich, the local Reichsprotector. Someone has been trying to kill Heydrich and he wants Gunther to investigate. Soon he finds himself investigating a murder…

Yes, that’s a rubbish summary. But if I go into any additional detail, then it comes under my definition of a spoiler. And we don’t do those here…

You see, an awful lot happens in this book and I don’t want to spoil any of the developments. The plot is the very definition of multi-layered and Kerr takes his time to introduce certain elements. Similarly, the central mystery is resolved earlier than you might expect, although given the nature of events, it is pretty clear that there will be implications from finding the killer and these need to be delved into.

So apart from the plot, what can I say about the book? The character of Gunther is an intriguing one – he has clearly suffered in his position, having to have taken some horrendous actions in the name of duty in Minsk in the previous book. At times, it seems that this book is his redemption – or at least some light relief – he seems to be enjoying himself at times – but given the setting, it’s clear that this isn’t going to last for long. Indeed, parts of the finale are like being punched in the stomach, and that’s just for the reader.

The other astonishing thing is how much of the background to the story and the characters are historical fact – practically all of it, in fact.

Any criticisms? Well, and this isn’t the fault of the book, but I’d highly recommend that you read this book in long chunks, rather than trying to dip in and out of it like I did. Not that it stopped me enjoying it (although I did tend to get confused between the Nazi officers at times) but I think that I’ve had enjoyed it even more reading it in longer sittings. But that’s my fault, not the book’s. Oh, the chapter lengths were a bit erratic, to say the least.

But despite those deeply pedantic quibbles, this is a great book to start 2013. Highly recommended, and I’ll be back to check out the earlier ones sooner rather than later.



  1. I’ve read all of Philip Kerr’s books about Bernie Gunther and found them enjoyable although it challenges one’s belief in mankind – how can a nation and its people do such terrible things. The mixing of fact and fiction was an interesting aspect to these stories and I have just finished Field Grey and Kerr’s comments at the end of the book wanted me to learn more about what had happened in Germany both pre and post second world war. Kerr is a good writer and I will read more of his books although difficult to get for my ereader as I live in China.


    • I was rather terrified by how much of this was based on fact snd will freely admit to being somewhat apprehensive about trying one of the others – in particular the preceding one. I will, though, as Kerr has clearly researched this in detail and it is important to know your history


      • I was not so much terrified as wanting to learn more. I live and work in China and have read Mao’s Great Famine by Fank Dikotter which left a very bad taste in my mouth. One can ask the same, why and how did this allow to happen and the same question can be asked of the former USSR with the cruelty and deaths attributable to Stalin. Persevere with Kerr’s books and you will get to like Bernie Gunther whilst he doesn’t come across as a loveable rogue he certainly has a qualms about many things which others seemed not to have.


  2. I know what you mean about having to read a book in long chunks. There is a very well reviewed book by Leif GW Persson that i simply can’t get into. I have brought it away with me on holiday to try and give it another go.
    I see Philip Kerr’s next Bernie Gunther book is out in March.


  3. I have not read anything by Philip Kerr but this does sound really good. Sometimes it is so hard to say what you want about a book without giving away important details but you did a good job of it here. Thanks for the review!


  4. I absolutely love the first three Bernie Gunther novels that make up the “Berlin Noir” trilogy. I was pleasantly surprised a few years ago to learn that after a long hiatus, Kerr had delivered several more in the series. While they are not *all* as good as the original three, they are all good and several are excellent. And while it’s good to read in long stretches, I’ve found it’s best to not read too many back to back. But this is near the top of the pile of books I need to read


      • Of the ones I have read the first three are the best. A complaint I have here, and throughout, is that Bernie is too vocal and repetitive about how he hates nazis. I see that mostly as Kerr insulating himself, but it gets wearing and it is sometimes implausible. Cheek by jowl with Heydrich and his entourage, Bernie blurts out his disdain waaaay too often to survive.

        Generally a good story though.

        A related recommendation: Friederich Glauser, who died in 1938, wrote some excellent hard boiled mysteries. The main German language crime prize is named for him.

        Liked by 1 person

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