Audiobook Recommendations- Berlin Noir ‘Bernie Gunther’

Looking through the other end of the spyglass.

Recently I’ve had an odd fascination with modern history, namely the period between World War I and 1950 (when my dad was born). This fascination had motivated me to watch ‘World War II in HD Colour’, documentaries about the Royal Household, and more recently I’ve finished reading the Trilogy ‘Berlin Noir- Bernie Gunther’, by Phillip Kerr.

I think it’s long enough since the end of the Second World War, that we can now show a passing interest in 1930s-1940s Germany without being labelled as a Nazi sympathiser. And it’s uncommon to find a fictional novel set in pre-WWII Germany, especially where the protagonist is an Aryan German.

Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy starts off with ‘March Violets’ set in 1936 Berlin, where ex-police now Private detective Bernie Gunter is making a living from seeking out information on missing persons- as more and more German Jews are going missing as the Nazi party gains more of a foothold. That is before Bernie is lured into a potentially lucrative case, to locate missing jewels belonging to a wealthy German industrialist- in the process uncovering more than he bargained for.   

     In book 2 of the series (The Pail Criminal), Bernie has been brought back into the Berlin Police force to solve a string of killings of young Aryan girls. Convinced that he’s the only one who could solve these murders, due to his pass successes with catching a similar serial killer, Bernie uncovers a plot which is way above his pay-grade. Set in the backdrop of 1938 Berlin, in the subsequent years much has changed Germany is on the brink of all-out war, and the open persecution of Jews is rampant.

In the final book in the Berlin Noir trilogy (A German Requiem- 1947-48), the war has already been fought and loss, and Berlin and much of Germany/Austria has been left in ruins. And those who have survived the war, are now left to fend for themselves in a near post-apocalypse landscape where people are reduced to their most primal needs. Meanwhile streetwise Bernie Gunther is still a Private detective and is soon hired to investigate the framing of a former acquaintance, who is awaiting execution in Vienna. Who is good? Who is telling lies? Who can Bernie trust?

I guess the ultimate reason why I found these novels so fascinating, was because I had rarely heard of life in Germany leading up to the war or had spent much time reading up about life in post-war Germany/Austria. It was fascinating to hear of the glamour of pre-war Berlin, and then having that contrasted with the desolation in post-war Berlin, where there were French, and American, British, and Russian controlled sectors. Weird!

And what made Phillip Kerr’s book so engrossing, was his ability to bring to life his characters and settings by describing everything in such detail, transporting me to 1930s-1940s Berlin. And although most detective novels are slow to develop, however Kerr had me tearing through the books, smashing through the 3 books in less than 2 weeks!

If you want to read something a bit different from your ordinary Detective mysteries, check out Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, it’s not for everyone but it still might interest you.

Audiobook recommendation- Fair warning

Ah Michael Connelly, you’ve done it again!

It has taken me over 20 years, but now I’m finally up-to-speed with Michael Connelly’s new releases, and the latest book which I’ve read was Fair warning released 2020.

The interesting thing about Michael Connelly’s approach to his fictional writing, is that he basis his characters in Los Angeles, and they all occupy the same circle of society e.g., a detective, a defence lawyer, an FBI agent, and a crime reporter- and at one point or another, all these characters have crossed paths. And in Fair warning, this time Michael Connelly has focused his story on Jack McEvoy, the crime reporter, but crime reporter no more. And therefore, why I love Michael Connelly’s books, because as we his fans age, and as the progress of time continues to roll on, so does his fictional characters and the near reality LA world that they live in.

With the transition away from conventional print media, Jack McEvoy now finds himself writing for a digital publication, blowing wide open scams which prey on the innocent Retail consumer…. Yeah, not exactly hard-hitting journalism. Hey? And Jack is more than aware of this, but his unremarkable life is turned upside down, when police detectives show up at his home, making him a person of interest to a murder. And once Jack gets going, digging around, and uncovering hidden clues, Jack finds himself in the middle of a serial killer’s murdering spree. But this unfortunate outcome, reunites him back up with his old flame and former FBI agent Rachel Walling. And together, with the help of the FBI and the full weight of Jack’s digital publication, they solve a mystery where women are left broken and dead in highly suspicious circumstances.

I think, because it’s the first time that I’m reading a Connelly book within 12 months of its release, so the book and the setting in which the characters lived in, felt super real. E.g., the serial killer drove a Tesla, there were references to Donald Trump’s treatment of the media, everyone was using Ride share companies, podcasting emerged as the media of choice, and DNA matching companies (which you hear adverts of all the time) took centre stage. So, you can’t ever say that Michael Connelly isn’t up with the times, but perhaps there was a bit of an overuse or over spotlight placed on our modern present- to the extent that at times it felt like he was writing a spoof of our modern day. And I just wonder, how would this book hold up, 20 years down the track.

But like all Michael Connelly books, the story was fast paced, the jumps between scenes and how the storyline unfolded was all together believable, and although there wasn’t a twist as such, but where we ended up at the end of the book, was not where I thought it was going to head from the beginning. So, it was an unexpected journey, but a riveting one, as usual!

So as Harry Bosch ages, into his twilight years so he’s less likely going to be out there solving murders- the end of Fair warning had set the scene in how Michael Connelly might continue his popular brand of books. That it might be a crime solving duo, made up of Jack McEvoy and Rachel Walling! Which isn’t an altogether bad coupling.

To check out Michael Connelly’s latest hit thriller Fair warning, click HERE to start listening on Audible.

Netflix Recommendations- Ginny & Georgia

Comparing and contrasting Ginny & Georgia to another mother daughter combo.

I couldn’t help it! Throughout the entire series of Ginny & Georgia I couldn’t help comparing it back to that early 00s series Gilmore Girls (even their abbreviations look similar! G&G and GG). Ok, there’s a bit more intrigue and mystery in Ginny & Georgia (G&G), and it tapped more into the day’s trending topics, however the similarities were way too striking!

Well, let’s start off with the differences. The most obvious is that Georgia has one more kid than Lorelai, and Ginny being African-American definitely made her a more  complex charactor than good-ol’ Rory; Sure, the criminality (or suggestion of) stands out as a stark contrast to the prim and proper GGs, but back in their day the GGs were a bit bad-ass weren’t they? With teenage out of wedlock pregnancy, sure Ginny & Georgia reflects our changing times e.g., Ginny loses her virginity in episode 2 or something, while the makers of GG only tackled that topic seasons and seasons into the drama; while perhaps all the differences between G&G and GG, is only reflecting the changing times, as Afterall almost 20 years has passed since Gilmore Girls first graced our rear projection screens.

So, could we say that Ginny & Georgia is just a reboot of Gilmore girls, for a new generation?

And here are all the similarities: Single parent household; teenage daughter is now the same age as her mother when she gave birth to her; they’ve recently moved to the town; the small town is located in the same part of the United States i.e. the North east; both mothers were sassy; the kids had issues of fitting in (more so for Austin than Ginny); There’s a good boy, and there’s a bad boy creating a love triangle; both Ginny and Rory seemed to be more mature than their mothers, while themselves being a bit innocent and naïve; both absent fathers were both the cool dad who rode motor bikes; while in both shows there was a diner/café owner who had crushes on Georgia/Lorelai! Well, let’s just say ‘plagiarism is the highest form of flattery’?

But either way, Ginny & Georgia was entertaining enough, at the end of every episode there was enough of an unresolved issue, which had me coming back for more! Which has me wondering, what are they going to do for a second season? If there is a second.

If you’re not one of the 52 million Netflix subscribers who have already watched Ginny & Georgia, then you just don’t know what you’re missing out on……. No, you can probably guess, if you were an original fan of Gilmore Girls. But if you want to experience Ginny & Georgia for yourself? Then click HERE to begin!

Podcast recommendation- The Sure Thing

The story behind Australia’s largest white-collar crime!

It’s not often that I stumble on new trends right from the get-go, but this time as the Australian Financial Review (AFR) released its True Crime podcast series ‘The Sure Thing’- I was there from the very beginning.

You may or may not remember the news reporting of this when it happened, when 2 uni mates hatched an insider trading scam which made them $7.8 Million in only 9 months? One Australian Bureau of Statistics Analyst (Christopher Hill) would pass on employment figures (ahead of their official release) which he crunched monthly, and in the hands of his National Australia Bank broker friend, would then purchase Australian dollars short, and then sell the currency for a profit after the employment figures were officially released- pushing the Australian dollar up or down. While the plan was simple in its application, but Lukas Kamay (the Broker) had other ideas in mind, undermining their original safe bet and would invest huge amounts which then drew attention to themselves- bringing the full force of the law on them.

The AFR reporting and production, led by Angus Grigg, was surprisingly top-notch (for an Australian production), with sound effects, clever weaving of the story to maximise intrigue and engagement, while the use of interviews with primary sources and specialists were used to great effect! And to top off the 6-episode series, there was a twist waiting for us part way through, resulting in an altogether surprising ending to the real-life story!

Look, it was great that I caught onto this podcast right from the start- so that I could recommend it to friends which allowed me to wait for them to loop back to me, super appreciative of my recommendation. But the downsides were the seemingly interminable waits in-between episodes (weekly drops), which felt brutal now that we’re so use to ‘on demand’. So, as I type up this recommendation, my memories of the first few episodes are hazy, as it was over 2 months ago! Perhaps I need to re-listen to them?

If you want to binge on ‘The Sure Thing’, a top shelf Australian True Crime story, click HERE to start listening now!

Netflix recommendations- The Royal House of Windsor

Just when you thought you knew it all!

We do have an odd fascination with the Royals, don’t we? That royal linage, being blood descendants of all the great Kings and Queens from the history books! But the Netflix documentary series ‘The Royal House of Windsor’ shed light and gave us some crazy ‘What the ‘moments, just when we thought we already knew all there is to know about our Royal family!

What the! Moment 1: The surname change.

I was so shocked to learn, that the Windsor’s had changed their surname from the very German sounding Saxe-Culburg Gotha to the Windsor’s in 1917 during the reign of George V, and attempt to distance themselves from their Germanic past, after the first World War. That’s amazing, how the royal family had buried that fact uber deep.

What the! Moment 2: Fun King David

Sure, we knew of King Edward VIII’s’ abdication as it was front and centre in ‘The King’s Speech’, but who knew that he was so beloved and charismatic- like Prince Harry of his day. Imagine how things could have been if he remained King?

What the! Moment 3: Lord Mountbatten.

Before watching The Royal House of Windsor, I had never heard of the man ‘Lord Mountbatten’, or that Prince the late Phillip was also a Mountbatten. But according to the documentary, Lord Mountbatten was a powerbroker behind the scenes, and had many plans to re-shape the Royal family according to his vision, until his untimely death in 1979.

What the! Moment 4: Queen Elizabeth can sound normal!

By now, we all know the Queen’s speech. That higher pitched, aristocratic British voice with that quaver to it? And she even spoke like that when she was in her 20s. But in the documentary, they showed some 3 second clips from a home video which captured the young Queen just being herself, talking to her kids. And shock horror! She sounds normal! But unfortunately, the private home videos had been aired once on British TV, but not to be aired ever again. It would be nice to see the Queen in her normal everyday ways, but I guess that would make her too relatable! And we can’t have that? Right?

What the! Moment 5: Prince Charles was a playboy?!

Now this I found hard to believe. But in the 70s, Prince Charles was actually a playboy, dating and breaking a many hearts along the way. How weird hey? The only image I have of Prince Charles is how he’s depicted in ‘The Windsors’, the spoof comedy of the royal family. There he’s dry, boring, and just interested in making organic cookies………

So, if you too want to learn all the truths of the Windsors, check-out ‘The Royal House of Windsor’, a real fascinating watch! When you’re finished, you’ll really know it all! To start, watching, click HERE!

Podcast recommendation- The Sporkful

Your mission if you so choose to accept it……

Don’t you love cross promotions between Podcasters? Here I was, minding my own business- listening to pods which I was already subscribed to and then ‘Decoder Ring’ spoon feeds me an episode from another podcaster. And it left me riveted, so much so, that when the last tone was still ringing in my ear, I went and subscribed to this podcast.

The Sporkful was the podcast which so riveted me- a show for eaters, not foodies. And their tag line says it all, you don’t have to have a penchant for fine dining or across all the latest food fads to enjoy this pod, but you only need to enjoy eating- and isn’t that all of us?

Hosted by Dan Pashman, a New Yorker, and the very first episode which I listened to, was where he was telling the world his plan to create a new pasta shape. A 5-episode series called Mission ImPastabal! And over the episodes Dan first drums up excitement about his mission/new venture; then goes away to understand everything about pasta from ingredients, mass production methods, and learns of all the various shapes of pasta already out there; before placing pencil to drafting paper to design his ideal and never seen before pasta shape; then going away to find a designer to cast and a factory to produce his pasta; all the way till distribution of his new pasta shape to his faithful listeners.

And let me tell you, Dan has opened my eyes to a whole new world which I had previously never thought too deeply about- like there is a name for every variant of pasta, and here I thought the Rigatoni was just an oversized Penne pasta! And I thought the ruffles on the edges of pasta was just for aesthetic purposes, but they have a purpose of catching more sauce.

And throughout the series, and the criteria which Dan was creating his pasta shape to, was to fulfill the 3 requirements of Forkability! Sausability! And Tooth Sinkability! I.e., how easy is it to get the pasta onto your fork, how well does the pasta hold sauce on its slippery surface, and how much enjoyment do you gain from chewing that pasta? And again, with gusto! Forkability! Sausability! And Tooth Sinkability!

Now I’m wondering, how much postage and handling is going to cost, to ship a 5-pound bag of Dan Pashman’s pasta to Sydney Australia!?

To geek out on pasta, check out ‘The Sporkful’, click HERE to amerce yourself in the mission!