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.

Audiobook recommendation- The Night Fire

Old dogs can learn new tricks!

It’s official! I’ve listened to every Harry Bosch book ever published! It has only taken me 20 years (since 2001 to 2021), but I’ve achieved it! So when I say I’ve grown old with Harry Bosh, I literally mean it. The first time I listened to ‘City of Bones’, I was a young and impressionable 17-year-old, I remember how that title seemed a bit too adult and intense for me at that time. But when I re-listened to ‘City of Bones’ 15 years later when reading all of the Bosh series in sequence, CoB seemed like just a child’s book, nothing to keep one replaying scenes in the middle of the night.

But as I grew old with Bosh, the brilliant thing about Michael Connelly’s creation, was that Bosh also grew old with me (so did the old waiter at Philippe’)- Harry’s age incrementing at the same pace as the real world. At this stage in 2019 in The Night Fire, Bosh is fully retired- not even a part-timer for the San Fernando PD. And more and more of his LAPD buddies are dropping dead due to old age.

But to keep the Bosh series about solving crime and putting criminals behind bars (rather than just stories of golfing and retirement) Michael Connelly has merged two of his  previously separate series together, thus the younger Renée Ballard who is a Night shift detective can still continue on the good fight with her badge. And not only has Connelly combined two previously separate characters, but he has also brought in Micky Haller, thus bringing together even more elements to make The Night Fire even more  interesting to say the least.

And where I’ve teased that ‘old dogs’ are able to learn new tricks, if you’re familiar with the Bosh series you’d be aware that for most of his novels- Michael Connelly has Bosh spending the entire novel investigating and solving a single case. However in The Night Fire, as now we have Bosh, Ballard and Haller in one book, so we end up investigating several cases at one time- thus it feels more like an anthology of short stories, rather than a novel, which isn’t a bad change-up?

And as this book is as much a Bosh series, as it is a Ballard series, alternating chapters we have the novel driven through Bosh’s perspective, then Ballard’s perspective (with a corresponding male and female narrator to play each). While it was interesting to notice the different styles Connelly writes in, like for Bosh it’s in the 3rd person, while for Ballard it’s always from the first person’s point of view.

The Night Fire involves a seemingly accidental death of a young homeless man; a 30+ year old cold case killing of a drug addict in a dingy alley; and a court case to convict a mentally ill man accused of killing a prominent judge. These all seemingly separate storylines progress in different directions, before they eventually converge in a gripping finale! The final 2 hours of the book, I smashed it out in one sitting at 2.30am in the morning, seated in an armchair with ear pods in, trying not to wake my sleeping wife. And as usual, Michael Connelly had me riveted and holding my breath right down to  the very end! Brilliant! Bravo!

For the official ‘The Night Fire’ blurb, and extras, click HERE!

Audiobook review- Curse of Hera

How similar can books be, before we shout out plagiarism!?

I was checking out what other books Rick Riordan has released recently, as I was in the mindset for another fantasy series- when I was recommended a similar series to Percy Jackson & The Olympians.

To say that the two series are similar, is an understatement. Curse of Hera (Camp Hercules book 1) by P.J. Hoover features a male teenage protogenos (Check), clueless about the Greek mythologies (Check), finds his way to a summer camp to hone campers’ monster slaying abilities (Check), and finds out that they are special, being a spawn of a Greek god (Check).

But how Curse of Hera differs, is that Logan (the main character) is sent to Camp Hercules with the pretence that he was just attending an ancient Greek themed summer camp. Unaware that the gods and demi-gods who he comes across, are in-fact the real deals- Hercules is the Hercules, and Athena is the Athena. The author P.J. Hoover creatively combines the Greek tales nicely with modern day fixtures i.e. camp t-shirts which act like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment or should I say Armor), and the Fates are armed with an iPad tablet to record their transactions with mortals. 

The book contains Hercules’ famous Labours, and when things go horribly wrong and the labours are released and run amuck in the camp and beyond the walls of Camp Hercules- quickly summer camp becomes an old-fashioned Quest!

The book contains a few pivotal twists and sets things up nicely for a follow-up sequel.

So, if you’re a fan of the Greek mythologies and you were a fan of happenings at Camp Half-blood? I think you’ll enjoy P.J. Hoover’s Curse of Hera- just as long as you’re able to stop yourself from constantly comparing the two series. If you want to check it out, click HERE!

However, if you’re not into a near ‘fan fic’ of Rick Riordan’s original creation, perhaps you might be interested in ‘The Blood of Zeus’?

Blood of Zeus is a Netflix animated series, uncannily featuring the Greek gods and heroes again, Heron being the main character, a demi-god who is tasked to save Olympus and earth (a simple task? Really!).

Over 8 episodes Heron moves from being a simple peasant boy with no particular skill, to an awesome fighter with supernatural powers! The storyline is like any Greek mythology story, so it’s a bit predictable. While the animation is a bit jerky due to the low frames used in its animation creation, so it’s not the most amazing looking thing. However, if you welcome    variety from Netflix, then you’ll embrace this new content.

To check-out ‘Blood of Zeus’, click HERE!

Audiobook Review- No Middle Name

Jack non Reacher……. Enough said.

 

We’ve been a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series for a while now, perhaps for a decade or more? It sounds like a long time, but I do believe that we’re still late to join the fan band wagon.

 

And Lee Child’s 2017 anthology of Jack Reacher short stories simply adds to the legend that is Reacher. The mish-mash of stories give us a glimpse into his pre-pubescent life; the character he was as a late teen; filling in some gaps in his military service; and of course more examples of his nomadic wanderings in the United States.

 

The anthology is made up of 2 novellas (definition of a novella is a short long story, or a long short story….. *shrug*); and 10 properly short stories.

 

My favourite from the collection of shorts were ‘Second son’ a snap-shot of when Reacher was but a boy, newly arriving on the island of Okinawa as a military brat, and how he handles business with the local bully-boys in the only way he knows how.

 

‘Deep Down’, when Reacher is still in the service of Uncle Sam, he goes under-cover to weasel out a mole within the US Military Core.

 

While we liked ‘Everyone Talks’, just for the shear fact that to this day the ending still remains a mystery to us. Nothing like a story which keeps you baffled right to the very end and beyond!

 

So if you’re a fan of Jack Reacher, and you’ve read all of the novels in the long and still ongoing series, but you haven’t read this anthology? It’s definitely worth you’re while! Getting Reacher in small, easier to consume portions is definitely the way to go! To pick up a copy of ‘No Middle Name’, click HERE!

 

And while I still have your attention, here are my thoughts on the Jack Reacher motion picture……..

 

Prior to watching it, I was convinced that I’d hate it- as Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher…… Enough said? Right? Like Reacher is a hulking 6’3 being- I’d imagine an actor like Kevin Sorbo-est might be better suited to play the indestructible Reacher in a live action drama. But little old Tommy?

 

But I’m here to let you know, that Tom Cruise actually pulls-off quite a convincing role as Reacher. So much so that you forget that he’s meant to be invincible. Haaha. To say that he made the role his own, is an understatement. In the end, ‘Jack Reacher’ in the hands of Tom Cruise has turned the film into another action thriller franchise, with a surprisingly cool collection of cars and action scenes involving cars. And we enjoyed it so much that now we’re purposefully searching the Netflix library for films starring Tom Cruise, as we’re secretly a new convert of Tom’s.

 

To watch Tom Cruise as ‘Jack Reacher’, click HERE!

 

Audiobook Review- Rich People Problems

Die old woman, die!

 

Ok, my opening line does seem a bit crass, but over-time the above had become the code word that my wife and I used to refer to the book ‘Rich People Problems’. E.g.

 

“Die old woman, die?” Uttered as a suggestion that we listen to the audiobook together over Sunday morning breakfast (which had become a bit of a tradition for us).

 

Or “Die old woman, die!” uttered when the story-line hit a particularly slow draggy spot- which seemed to be too often, as it took us over 6 months to   finish the book.

 

But while getting through a book over a long period of time may suggest how non-riveting  a novel may be- however in our opinion ‘Rich People Problems’ may actually be the best of the Crazy Rich trilogy!

 

The preface of the 2017 Kevin Kwan novel, the 3rd and last in the series is that the matriarch of the Young family Shang Su Yi is on her death bed. And after 4 years of estrangement after his marriage to Rachel, Nick returns back to Singapore to reconcile with his grandmother before she passes. And when he returns to Tyersall Park,  he finds that all of his extended family are there, some out of familial duty, others out of real affection for Su Yi, while others are just wanting to get into her good books and her will, so they could be “set-up for life”. Hence the novel’s title- Rich People Problems.

 

Previously I had shat all over the second book in the series (China Rich Girlfriend), however the formula which made the first novel ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ a global sensation, that same winning formula was back in RPP. I.e. the spotlight place back on the Young family and the story once again unfolds on the island of Singapore. What we also liked about the book, was that all the previous characters are back again! Including all the characters from the second book- at the time when we were painfully slogging through China Rich Girlfriend and wondering why seemingly inconsequential characters like Kitty Bing-Pong (her friends call her Beer-Pong) and Colette Bing were getting so much air-time. However the reasoning for this, was so that the scene was set and they could play their vital roles in the conclusion of the 3rd story. Gold hey!? And we also liked the fact that all story-lines were tied off in a neat bow by the conclusion of the book, so at the end of the trilogy you can walk away feeling at peace that all was final (while keeping your fingers crossed that there won’t be another sequel to open all the healed wounds again).

 

What we didn’t like about the novel, was the fact that again there wasn’t a family tree included as an appendix to better explain who’s who, and what were their relations to everyone else (considering they had all those footnotes throughout the novel, couldn’t they include a family tree as well?). Which resulted in quite a few conversations between my wife and I throughout the past 6 months, trying to explain to each other  our understanding of who was Alfred Shang and how many daughters did Su Yi actually have. And even after completing the first two books and part way through the third- then and only then did we realise that Astrid had other siblings, not only one nor two, but 3 other brothers!? What the? And the last thing which I didn’t like, was that some parts of the novel were uber cringing. I understand that the novel is satirical in nature, however some story-lines were just flogged a little bit too hard I think. Like Eddie Cheng’s carrying-ons, and the extreme shallowness of Kitty Beer-Pong. “Yeah, we get the idea, can we please move on?”

 

But all in all, Rich People Problems had worked to salvage our perception of the series and Kevin Kwan as a story-teller- so much so that we have already purchased his latest novel ‘Sex & Vanity’. A completely unrelated tale to the crazy rich Asians, but we hope just as fun!

 

To check out ‘Rich People Problems’, click HERE!