Hunting the Hangman

Hunting the Hangman – Howard Linskey

This exciting but downbeat thriller is a realistic fictional account of an audacious wartime operation that shook the Nazi world – the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich. Hunting the Hangman is a thought provoking and insightful retelling. Thisis about Operation Anthropoid, set up by the SOE, (Special Operations Executive), in the Autumn of 1941 but very much a Czech mission. The brainchild of Eduard Benes, the London exiled Czech Prime Minister, the assassination plan was approved and supported by Winston Churchill. The target, Reinhard Heydrich, was deputy to Heinrich Himmler, head of the Reich Main Security Office and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. A man many assumed to be the natural successor to the Fuehrer. The plan to assassinate the man in charge of the brutal Nazi subjugation of Czechoslovakia would come at a high price. Heydrich was a man arrogant enough to believe that no one would dare to make an attempt on his life, he rode around the city in his car with a driver but no escort. Hunting the Hangman relates the story from inception and recruitment of the agents to the execution of the plan, the fall out and terrible aftermath. A story of the best and worst of humanity; a tale of conviction, sacrifice, betrayal and brutality.

The introduction to the novel provides a short explanation of how Linskey came to the story and how the novel was years in the making. It also sets the scene for readers new to this momentous event in European history, (a brief cast of characters and chapter quotes are a useful adjunct to the story.

Reinhardt Heydrich is an enigma, he may not be the best known Nazi but he is the one most people have trouble figuring out. Clearly erudite, courageous, fiercely intelligent and talented, (a highly regarded violinist). Yet he is known to history as ‘The Hangman’, ‘the Butcher of Prague’ and even his colleagues referred to him as ‘The blond beast’. His role as the instigator of the Wannsee Conference and the ‘Final Solution’ is highlighted in this novel. That Heydrich might have followed Hitler as Fuhrer may be one of the motivations for Benes’ plan. Linskey presents a chilling portrait of this man and the complexity of his character. A reflection on man’s inhumanity to man.

The heroes of the novel are the brave partisans, Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the men who volunteered for this mission despite knowing the personal sacrifice it demanded. Linskey has imagined two men with the usual ambitions of the young, flawed but with a burning idealism; determined and brave. Keen despite the knowledge of the terrible cost of success and what it will mean for them personally and the people of Czechoslovakia. Believable young men, ordinary people rising to the challenge of extraordinary times.

Linskey has a flair for scene setting, such as the meeting between Benes and Churchill to agree the plan, or the introduction of Heydrich to the novel as a family man at a photograph session. We see the fear, apprehension, opposition, acceptance and enthusiasm for the plan by the local partisans who helped the two men carry out their operation. The merits of the plan are discussed – is this an assassination or a murder? Important questions of morality and consequence are explored. The action takes us from the Home Counties to the heart of Prague and the denouement at St. Cyril’s and St. Methodius church. Linskey sketches out places and people that provide real colour to the storytelling.

This is one of the most courageous and conspicuous events of the second world war, ideal fodder for a novelist but also a daunting task to do it justice and make it an entertaining read. Linskey manages to do this. ‘Hhhh’ by Laurent Binet, may be a more literary retelling of the events of Prague of 1942 but Hunting the Hangman is much more engaging emotionally. The novel is meticulous researched and a number of real events are brought to life with reimagined dialogue and descriptive prose.

Published in the UK by No Exit Press for the 75th anniversary of the incident, Hunting the Hangman is now out in the US from Kensington Books. For those interested, there are two movies that came out at roughly the same time as the UK publication of the book: ‘Anthropoid’ and ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ and there was a film made in the 1970’s called ‘Operation Daybreak’.

Linskey has gone on to write another book about the SOE, Ungentlemanly Warfare. If you liked Corpus by Rory Clements I think this novel will interest you. If you want to know more about Heydrich as architect of the final solution there is a short book called ‘The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting‘ by Mark Roseman, detailing how the decision to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe was made in such a speedy and chilling matter of fact way.

US: Kensington Books, paperback, ISBN 9780786047024, Out Now

UK: No Exit Press, paperback, ISBN 9781843449508, 2017.

review originally published in NB Magazine 2017, revised for US publication date.

Top Independent Titles for Christmas

Christmas Books for the Bookworm on the road less travelled.

I would have loved to review these books this month but time beat me. However, I still think they’re worthy of note, these are some of the best recent titles from independent presses, books for people who are always looking for something original and intellectually stimulating; rediscovered classics, translated gems and new literary leviathans.

Fum D’Estampa Press launched in August this year with the intention of bringing the best Catalan poetry, prose and essays to the English language audience, turns out there’s a gold mine of previously untranslated titles out there. I was struck by the genius of Narcís Oller’s tale of a young man’s descent into The Madness, their first book, already reviewed on NB. These are two more titles here:

Short Stories:

London Under Snow by Jordi Llavina translated by Douglas Shuttle.

The blurb: London Under Snow is a delicate, compact, mature and profound collection of short stories about winter by Jordi Llavina. Six fragments of different lives in six different moments. In this beautifully written collection, the characters come face to face with their different lives and pasts, all of which are full of ghosts and memories. Sensibility courses through each story, all of them written with a meticulous eye to detail and a careful lyricism that pays tribute to the human condition and the society that we have created.

Bringing winter and Christmas celebrations in a variety of places and cultures to life in a selection of beautifully written short stories, Llavina mixes personal experiences with fictional characters to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Excerpt:

“Five days before I was to set off for the English capital, a colossal snowstorm had set alarm bells ringing and I was worried that the thick blanket of snow shown on the newspapers’ front pages would turn into a terrible layer of ice – I didn’t realise that the services in London actually work reasonably well: snowploughs, workers with reflective jackets and armed with spades and salt all work together to remove the settled snow. On the television, Hyde Park was an indistinct, indivisible white, and all of the hated lead-grey squirrels had sought refuge inside tree trunks or litter bins. The typical phlegmatic British character had been slightly disrupted: the special news reports showed images from Chelsea of playful teenagers building snowmen against the snowy white blanket and keeping bottles of beer cool in the midriffs of their creations…”

The author: Jordi Llavina is an award-winning writer, poet, broadcaster and critic who has published over 10 books in his long and distinguished career. Living and working in Villafranca del Penedès, near Barcelona, he has won numerous prizes for both of poetry and prose including the prestigious Lletra d’or in 2019 for his long poem, The Hermitage.

What the critics say:

‘Llavina exhibits his great ability to successfully penetrate our psyches.’ Lluís Muntada, El País

‘Presided over by tenderness and truth, Jordi Llavina’s stories are beautiful, cathartic masterpieces.’ Anna M. Gil, La Vanguàrdia.

Fum D’Estampa Press, paperback, ISBN 9781916293960

Poetry and Prose:

One Day of Life is Life by Joan Maragall translated by Ronald Puppo

The Blurb: This bilingual collection of both Maragall’s poetry and prose has been edited and translated by Ronald Puppo, a research fellow and translator at the University of Vic. His keen eye and expertise on Maragall comes across in droves as he takes what are arguably Catalan literature’s finest moments and turns them into eminently readable and enjoyable English language poems. Also included in this collection are some of Maragall’s pieces of prose work and personal letters that shed light onto the man himself. Accompanying all this are Puppo’s own indepth comments and insights.

The author: Joan Maragall (Barcelona, 1860-1911), the outstanding fin-de-siècle Catalan-language poet and publicist, holds an eminent place in Spain’s pantheon of diverse literatures. His ground breaking poetry, disarmingly uncomplex, encapsulates both the turbulence of his time and place (the anarchist bomb attack in the Barcelona Liceu Opera House, the spiritual cost of the Spanish-American War) and the serenity of his gaze into world and soul. Maragall’s wholehearted engagement in the debates of his troubled times cuts an emerging figure, not unlike Émile Zola, of prototype for the twentieth-century intellectuel engagé, and his steadfast friendship with Miguel de Unamuno brings to light their divergent views on how Spain might be put on democratic track.

An excerpt from The Siren (Fragment)

“                               Out over the land, from The darkness,

the scorching whistles of the tainted siren

calls the poor to work.

You’re not quite like the sirens of old,

whose song was another; and yet, similar,

when in that voice of unignorable friend you summon all around you.

…”

Fum D’Estampa Press, paperback, ISBN 9781916293953

Another new publisher Prototype already brought us Fatherhood by Caleb Klaces and The Boiled in Between by Helen Marten, both reviewed here. Now we have a new novel:

Along the River Run by Paul Buck

The blurb: Lisbon: that city at the mouth of the Tagus, that city that whispers, licks and seduces its visitors, that city that haunts those seeking refuge or its pleasures. Who would wish to escape?

It is the start of the millennium and two ‘lads’ from South East London are trapped in Lisbon among people and experiences set to push them to the limits. Attempting to lie low after a fateful night back home, the friends find themselves navigating an unnerving new reality in this haunting story of psychological destruction. A crime novel inspired by a real-life incident, and distinguished by its sensitivity to the subtleties of language and dialogue, Along the River Run is a story of guilt and retribution played out amid the streets, sounds and sights of this bewitching city.

The Author: Paul Buck has been writing and publishing since the late Sixties. His work is characterised by its sabotaging of the various forms in order to explore their overlaps and differences. Through the Seventies he also edited the seminal magazine Curtains, with its focus on threading French writing from Bataille, Blanchot, Jabès, Faye, Noël, Ronat, Collobert and a score of others into a weave with English and American writers and artists.

While editing and translating are still a daily activity – in partnership with Catherine Petit, the Vauxhall&Company series of books at Cabinet Gallery is their responsibility – he also continues to cover new ground: Spread Wide, a fiction generated from his letters with Kathy Acker; Performance, a biography of the Cammell/Roeg film; Lisbon, a cultural view of a city; A Public Intimacy, strip-searching scrapbooks to expose autobiography; Library: a suitable case for treatment, a collection of essays. In recent times he helped Laure Prouvost to write her film Deep See Blue Surrounding You, around which her Venice Biennale pavilion, representing France, was based.

What the press say:

‘A smartly crafted and necessary antidote to this fearful Little England moment. Paul Buck’s fast-moving Série Noire existentialism exposes a pair of lost or posthumous Estuary souls to the treacherous seductions of the Lisbon labyrinth. You can trust the teller and the tale.’ – Iain Sinclair

Prototype Press, paperback, ISBN 9781913513047

One of my favourite publishers is American independent Other Press. Here’s two offerings, (suitable for Christmas?):

Novel:

I’m Staying Here by Marco Balzano translated by Jill Foulston

The Blurb: A mother recounts her life story to her long-lost daughter in this sweeping historical novel about a community torn between Italian fascism and German Nazism.

In the small village of Curon in South Tyrol, seventeen-year-old Trina longs for a different life. She dedicates herself to becoming a teacher, but the year that she qualifies—1923—Mussolini’s regime abolishes the use of German as a teaching language in the annexed Austrian territory. Defying their ruthless program of forced Italianization, Trina works for a clandestine network of schools in the valley, always with the risk of capture. In spite of this new climate of fear and uncertainty, she finds love and some measure of stability with Erich, an orphaned young man and her father’s helper.

Now married and a mother, Trina’s life is again thrown into uncertainty when Hitler’s Germany announces the “Great Option” in 1939, and communities in South Tyrol are invited to join the Reich and leave Italy. The town splits, and ever-increasing rifts form among its people. Those who choose to stay, like Trina and her family, are seen as traitors and spies; they can no longer leave the house without suffering abuse. Then one day Trina comes home and finds that her daughter is missing…

Inspired by the striking image of the belltower rising from Lake Resia, all that remains today of the village of Curon, Marco Balzano has written a poignant novel that beautifully interweaves great moments in history with the lives of everyday people.

The Author: Marco Balzano was born in 1978 in Milan, where he lives and works as a high school teacher. In addition to essays and poetry collections, he has written four award-winning novels, including Il figlio del figlio (Premio Corrado Alvaro), Pronti a tutti le partenze (Premio Flaiano), and L’ultimo arrivato (Premio Campiello and Premio Volponi, among others). His bestseller Resto qui (Premio Bagutta, Premio Asti d’Appello, Prix Méditerranée, and runner-up for the Premio Strega) was published in 2018. His essay Le parole sono importanti (Premio Città delle Rose) was published in 2019. His books have been translated into several languages.

What the press say

“Quietly devastating…Balzano’s unvarnished approach heightens the poignancy of a story based on real events.” —Publishers Weekly

“Haunting and powerful.” —Booklist

“Brilliantly drawn…a quiet but heart-rending novel.” —Irish Examiner

Other Press, paperback, ISBN 9781635420371.

Essay:

Proustian Uncertainties By Saul Friedländer

on Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time

The Blurb: A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian revisits Marcel Proust’s masterpiece in this essay on literature and memory, exploring the question of identity—that of the novel’s narrator and Proust’s own.

This engaging re-examination of In Search of Lost Time considers how the narrator defines himself, how this compares to what we know of Proust himself, and what the significance is of these various points of commonality and divergence. We know, for example, that the author did not hide his homosexuality, but the narrator did. Why the difference? We know that the narrator tried to marginalize his part-Jewish background. Does this reflect the author’s position, and how does the narrator handle what he tries, but does not manage, to dismiss? These are major questions raised by the text and reflected in the text, to which the author’s life doesn’t give obvious answers. The narrator’s reflections on time, on death, on memory, and on love are as many paths leading to the image of self that he projects.

In Proustian Uncertainties, Saul Friedländer draws on his personal experience from a life spent investigating the ties between history and memory to offer a fresh perspective on the seminal work.

The author: Saul Friedländer is an award-winning Israeli-American historian and currently a professor of history (emeritus) at UCLA. He was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews, grew up in France, and lived in hiding during the German occupation of 1940–1944. His historical works have received great praise and recognition, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945.

What the press says:


“[A] haunting work…Friedländer has always imbued his scholarship with an acute literary sensibility…incisive and quizzical…[an] intimate and subtle book.” —Wall Street Journal

“[A] superb new book…Friedländer, the great historian of Nazi Germany and the Jews and also the author of his own Proustian memoir, When Memory Comes, argues that Proust’s narrator is a ‘disembodied presence unlike that in any novel before,’ and that it’s the relation of that presence to Proust himself that makes the Recherche, with its biting social satire, so unique.” —Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year

Other Press, Hardback, ISBN 9781590519110.

Finally:

Christmas Books for the Bookworm on the road less travelled.

I would have loved to review these books this month but time beat me. However, I still think they’re worthy of note, these are some of the best recent titles from independent presses, books for people who are always looking for something original and intellectually stimulating; rediscovered classics, translated gems and new literary leviathans.

Fum D’Estampa Press launched in August this year with the intention of bringing the best Catalan poetry, prose and essays to the English language audience, turns out there’s a gold mine of previously untranslated titles out there. I was struck by the genius of Narcís Oller’s tale of a young man’s descent into The Madness, their first book, already reviewed on NB. These are two more titles here:

Short Stories:

London Under Snow byJordi Llavina translated by Douglas Shuttle.

The blurb: London Under Snow is a delicate, compact, mature and profound collection of short stories about winter by Jordi Llavina. Six fragments of different lives in six different moments. In this beautifully written collection, the characters come face to face with their different lives and pasts, all of which are full of ghosts and memories. Sensibility courses through each story, all of them written with a meticulous eye to detail and a careful lyricism that pays tribute to the human condition and the society that we have created.

Bringing winter and Christmas celebrations in a variety of places and cultures to life in a selection of beautifully written short stories, Llavina mixes personal experiences with fictional characters to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Excerpt:

“Five days before I was to set off for the English capital, a colossal snowstorm had set alarm bells ringing and I was worried that the thick blanket of snow shown on the newspapers’ front pages would turn into a terrible layer of ice – I didn’t realise that the services in London actually work reasonably well: snowploughs, workers with reflective jackets and armed with spades and salt all work together to remove the settled snow. On the television, Hyde Park was an indistinct, indivisible white, and all of the hated lead-grey squirrels had sought refuge inside tree trunks or litter bins. The typical phlegmatic British character had been slightly disrupted: the special news reports showed images from Chelsea of playful teenagers building snowmen against the snowy white blanket and keeping bottles of beer cool in the midriffs of their creations…”

The author: Jordi Llavina is an award-winning writer, poet, broadcaster and critic who has published over 10 books in his long and distinguished career. Living and working in Villafranca del Penedès, near Barcelona, he has won numerous prizes for both of poetry and prose including the prestigious Lletra d’or in 2019 for his long poem, The Hermitage.

What the critics say:

‘Llavina exhibits his great ability to successfully penetrate our psyches.’ Lluís Muntada, El País

‘Presided over by tenderness and truth, Jordi Llavina’s stories are beautiful, cathartic masterpieces.’ Anna M. Gil, La Vanguàrdia.

Fum D’Estampa Press, paperback, ISBN 9781916293960

Poetry and Prose:

One Day of Life is Life by Joan Maragall translated by Ronald Puppo

The Blurb: This bilingual collection of both Maragall’s poetry and prose has been edited and translated by Ronald Puppo, a research fellow and translator at the University of Vic. His keen eye and expertise on Maragall comes across in droves as he takes what are arguably Catalan literature’s finest moments and turns them into eminently readable and enjoyable English language poems. Also included in this collection are some of Maragall’s pieces of prose work and personal letters that shed light onto the man himself. Accompanying all this are Puppo’s own indepth comments and insights.

The author: Joan Maragall (Barcelona, 1860-1911), the outstanding fin-de-siècle Catalan-language poet and publicist, holds an eminent place in Spain’s pantheon of diverse literatures. His ground breaking poetry, disarmingly uncomplex, encapsulates both the turbulence of his time and place (the anarchist bomb attack in the Barcelona Liceu Opera House, the spiritual cost of the Spanish-American War) and the serenity of his gaze into world and soul. Maragall’s wholehearted engagement in the debates of his troubled times cuts an emerging figure, not unlike Émile Zola, of prototype for the twentieth-century intellectuel engagé, and his steadfast friendship with Miguel de Unamuno brings to light their divergent views on how Spain might be put on democratic track.

An excerpt from The Siren (Fragment)

“                               Out over the land, from The darkness,

the scorching whistles of the tainted siren

calls the poor to work.

You’re not quite like the sirens of old,

whose song was another; and yet, similar,

when in that voice of unignorable friend you summon all around you.

…”

Fum D’Estampa Press, paperback, ISBN 9781916293953

Another new publisher Prototype already brought us Fatherhood by Caleb Klaces and The Boiled in Between by Helen Marten, both reviewed here. Now we have a new novel:

Along the River Run by Paul Buck

The blurb: Lisbon: that city at the mouth of the Tagus, that city that whispers, licks and seduces its visitors, that city that haunts those seeking refuge or its pleasures. Who would wish to escape?

It is the start of the millennium and two ‘lads’ from South East London are trapped in Lisbon among people and experiences set to push them to the limits. Attempting to lie low after a fateful night back home, the friends find themselves navigating an unnerving new reality in this haunting story of psychological destruction. A crime novel inspired by a real-life incident, and distinguished by its sensitivity to the subtleties of language and dialogue, Along the River Run is a story of guilt and retribution played out amid the streets, sounds and sights of this bewitching city.

The Author: Paul Buck has been writing and publishing since the late Sixties. His work is characterised by its sabotaging of the various forms in order to explore their overlaps and differences. Through the Seventies he also edited the seminal magazine Curtains, with its focus on threading French writing from Bataille, Blanchot, Jabès, Faye, Noël, Ronat, Collobert and a score of others into a weave with English and American writers and artists.

While editing and translating are still a daily activity – in partnership with Catherine Petit, the Vauxhall&Company series of books at Cabinet Gallery is their responsibility – he also continues to cover new ground: Spread Wide, a fiction generated from his letters with Kathy Acker; Performance, a biography of the Cammell/Roeg film; Lisbon, a cultural view of a city; A Public Intimacy, strip-searching scrapbooks to expose autobiography; Library: a suitable case for treatment, a collection of essays. In recent times he helped Laure Prouvost to write her film Deep See Blue Surrounding You, around which her Venice Biennale pavilion, representing France, was based.

What the press say:

‘A smartly crafted and necessary antidote to this fearful Little England moment. Paul Buck’s fast-moving Série Noire existentialism exposes a pair of lost or posthumous Estuary souls to the treacherous seductions of the Lisbon labyrinth. You can trust the teller and the tale.’ – Iain Sinclair

Prototype Press, paperback, ISBN 9781913513047

One of my favourite publishers is American independent Other Press. Here’s two offerings, (suitable for Christmas?):

Novel:

I’m Staying Here by Marco Balzano translated by Jill Foulston

The Blurb: A mother recounts her life story to her long-lost daughter in this sweeping historical novel about a community torn between Italian fascism and German Nazism.

In the small village of Curon in South Tyrol, seventeen-year-old Trina longs for a different life. She dedicates herself to becoming a teacher, but the year that she qualifies—1923—Mussolini’s regime abolishes the use of German as a teaching language in the annexed Austrian territory. Defying their ruthless program of forced Italianization, Trina works for a clandestine network of schools in the valley, always with the risk of capture. In spite of this new climate of fear and uncertainty, she finds love and some measure of stability with Erich, an orphaned young man and her father’s helper.

Now married and a mother, Trina’s life is again thrown into uncertainty when Hitler’s Germany announces the “Great Option” in 1939, and communities in South Tyrol are invited to join the Reich and leave Italy. The town splits, and ever-increasing rifts form among its people. Those who choose to stay, like Trina and her family, are seen as traitors and spies; they can no longer leave the house without suffering abuse. Then one day Trina comes home and finds that her daughter is missing…

Inspired by the striking image of the belltower rising from Lake Resia, all that remains today of the village of Curon, Marco Balzano has written a poignant novel that beautifully interweaves great moments in history with the lives of everyday people.

The Author: Marco Balzano was born in 1978 in Milan, where he lives and works as a high school teacher. In addition to essays and poetry collections, he has written four award-winning novels, including Il figlio del figlio (Premio Corrado Alvaro), Pronti a tutti le partenze (Premio Flaiano), and L’ultimo arrivato (Premio Campiello and Premio Volponi, among others). His bestseller Resto qui (Premio Bagutta, Premio Asti d’Appello, Prix Méditerranée, and runner-up for the Premio Strega) was published in 2018. His essay Le parole sono importanti (Premio Città delle Rose) was published in 2019. His books have been translated into several languages.

What the press say

“Quietly devastating…Balzano’s unvarnished approach heightens the poignancy of a story based on real events.” —Publishers Weekly

“Haunting and powerful.” —Booklist

“Brilliantly drawn…a quiet but heart-rending novel.” —Irish Examiner

Other Press, paperback, ISBN 9781635420371.

Essay:

Proustian Uncertainties By Saul Friedländer

on Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time

The Blurb: A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian revisits Marcel Proust’s masterpiece in this essay on literature and memory, exploring the question of identity—that of the novel’s narrator and Proust’s own.

This engaging re-examination of In Search of Lost Time considers how the narrator defines himself, how this compares to what we know of Proust himself, and what the significance is of these various points of commonality and divergence. We know, for example, that the author did not hide his homosexuality, but the narrator did. Why the difference? We know that the narrator tried to marginalize his part-Jewish background. Does this reflect the author’s position, and how does the narrator handle what he tries, but does not manage, to dismiss? These are major questions raised by the text and reflected in the text, to which the author’s life doesn’t give obvious answers. The narrator’s reflections on time, on death, on memory, and on love are as many paths leading to the image of self that he projects.

In Proustian Uncertainties, Saul Friedländer draws on his personal experience from a life spent investigating the ties between history and memory to offer a fresh perspective on the seminal work.

The author: Saul Friedländer is an award-winning Israeli-American historian and currently a professor of history (emeritus) at UCLA. He was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews, grew up in France, and lived in hiding during the German occupation of 1940–1944. His historical works have received great praise and recognition, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945.

What the press says:


“[A] haunting work…Friedländer has always imbued his scholarship with an acute literary sensibility…incisive and quizzical…[an] intimate and subtle book.” —Wall Street Journal

“[A] superb new book…Friedländer, the great historian of Nazi Germany and the Jews and also the author of his own Proustian memoir, When Memory Comes, argues that Proust’s narrator is a ‘disembodied presence unlike that in any novel before,’ and that it’s the relation of that presence to Proust himself that makes the Recherche, with its biting social satire, so unique.” —Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year

Other Press, Hardback, ISBN 9781590519110.

Finally:

Night in Tehran by Philip Kaplan

The Blurb: Based on historic events, and frighteningly relevant to today’s headlines—a taut, Year of Living Dangerously-style thriller set in Tehran in the days leading up to the Iranian Revolution.

In the style of Alan Furst, this suspenseful thriller — based on real events — places an idealistic American diplomat in a turbulent, US-hating Tehran in the days leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Backed by the CIA, and trailed by a beautiful and engaging French journalist he suspects is a spy, David Weiseman’s mission is to ease the Shah of Iran out of power and find the best alternative between the military, religious extremists, and the political ruling class — many of whom are simultaneously trying to kill him.

The author: Ambassador Philip Kaplan, had a 27-year career as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, including being U.S. minister, deputy chief of mission and Charge d’Affaires, to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines during the tumultuous overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos.

Now retired from the State Department, Kaplan is currently a partner in Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP’s Washington, D.C law office where his practice is focused on public and private international law. He lives in Washington, DC.

Press:

“This taut and fast-paced novel has a particularly compelling feature: Philip Kaplan, after a career in the State Department, brings to his book a sharp political and international sophistication–rare in thrillers, abundant in Night in Tehran.”  — Alan Furst

This book will be reviewed in January.

Melville House Books, hardback, ISBN 9781612198507.

2020 A YEAR IN BOOKS

one to the events I hosted online – the new normal
looking forward to this in 2021
an encomium for Heine Bakkied

A Year In Books Paul Burke

1st January and one of the books of the year lands in my lap, Your House Will Pay Steph Cha, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/your-house-will-pay-by-steph-cha/ and so we’re off to good start. I’ve sorted my plans for attending crime writers festivals throughout the year; CapitalCrime2 in London, CrimeFest in Bristol, Theakstons in Harrogate and Liverpool and a couple of smaller festivals are in the mix, not to mention The London Book Fair in March, which I’ve already got my press pass for. Of course, we all know what happened next!

I was in London when Covid-19 hit for various meetings with book people, those were my last face to face chats this year, that was at the end of February. While Covid-19 was an inconvenience for me, my plans and my book world, it was far more serious for so many people. No one needs reminding of the heartbreak, suffice to say Covid-19 messed with everybody. It also messed with publishing, distribution, book selling, publicity and, of course, writing. Small independent traders really struggled from the off. I wrote two features, the first in May, that I hope shed some light on their experience: Publishing in a Time of Covid https://nbmagazine.co.uk/independent-publishing-in-a-time-of-covid-19-where-to-find-a-good-book/ and Coming Out of a Crisis? in August https://nbmagazine.co.uk/24877-2/. Then we thought it was all getting better only to be plunged back into a crisis again. On a positive note the vaccine has arrived and we can see an end game. One of the best things that has come out of this crisis is the remarkable way publishers adapted to the new normal, massively boosting selling online and organising business by virtual conferences and interacting with readers through virtual book launches, panels and even online festivals. Like many readers I’ve had a lot of enjoyment out of joining in and most people’s reading time went up.

I’ve been a bit technophobic but by May there was no alternative but to join the virtual meeting world. Shortly after that I began presenting for Crime Time TV by interviewing Leigh Russell; Anthony J Quinn, Edward Wilson, and Jerome Charyn followed. Only the other day I interviewed Tony Parsons about his upcoming novel Your Neighbour’s Wife due out in January, you know that’s going to be big, naturally I’ll be reviewing for NB. I also took part in two crime fiction panels, moderated by consummate presenter Barry Forshaw, it was a real pleasure to share the virtual stage with him, Maxim Jakubowski and Victoria Selman and to share my thoughts on novels of the year.

NB Magazine battled through, the quarterly magazine maybe having that little extra meaning for readers stuck at home. The Christmas issue, hot off the press, is on its way to subscribers/just arrived as you read. I love contributing online but there is something very gratifying in seeing my pieces in the magazine. This year I got to interview Lynda la Plante on her new novel Buried, Julie Lancaster on The Weight of Small Things and Adam Hamdy on Black 13 and contribute to a retrospective on Roddy Doyle and features on domestic noir, film of the book, crime scenes and a whole slew of reviews. There are already plenty of things in the pipeline for next year…

So to the other books that made my year. Surprise books, those I don’t expect to enjoy or know nothing about in advance, are always satisfying, my favourite and my selection for the online twelve days of Christmas feature is Mexican Gothic Silvia Moreno-Garcia, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/nb-communitys-12-books-of-christmas-day-2-mexican-gothic-by-silvia-moreno-garcia/, Gothic vampire horror Carmilla by Sheridan la Fanu is still so readable, The Madness by Narcis Oller, a nineteenth century Catalan novel in the vein of French natural realism was a delight for its dated but insightful portrait of a young man’s descent into madness but also its political background, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/the-madness-by-narcis-oller/ and The Readers Room by Antoine Laurain made me laugh out loud.

Books that really caught my attention: Black 13 by Adam Hamdy shows how inclusive and contemporary the high octane thriller can be, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/black-13-by-adam-hamdy/. There were several great reprints but the sheer power of GBH by Ted Lewis trump’s all, it’s a classic Brit noir from the writer of Jack’s Returns Home (Get Carter). Written before To Catch a Mockingbird, Face of My Assassin by Jan Huggins and Carolyn Weston, a deep south melodrama, is a powerful indictment of racism and corruption rediscovered and republished by Brash Books. When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby is a literary war story and a love story that engages intellectually and emotionally. Philip and Alexander by Adrian Goldsworthy is a comprehensive and thought provoking re-examination of the two kings and the influence of the father on the man who conquered Europe and beyond, very readable, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/philip-and-alexander-by-adrian-goldsworthy/. The Last Libertines by Benedetta Craveri is a biographical history, seven young aristocrats engaged with the enlightenment in the run up to the French Revolution, literary and thoroughly enjoyable. A collection worthy of a mention is  Cutting Edge Feminist Noir ed. Joyce Carol Oates (Pushkin Press) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/cutting-edge-edited-by-joyce-carol-oates/. Paul Vidich’s The Coldest Warrior https://nbmagazine.co.uk/the-coldest-warrior-by-paul-vidich/ is a step up into the top echelon of spy writing and GCHQ by John Ferris is a truly comprehensive history of the secret heart of government communications, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/gchq-by-john-ferris/. The mermaid of Black Conch Monique Roffey was a surprising literary fantasy that just beguiled me. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann https://nbmagazine.co.uk/tyll-by-daniel-kehlmann/, The Slaughterman’s Daughter Yaniv Ickovits and Trio by William Boyd were all fascinating historical reads. In the year of  two superb stories, Three-Fifths by John Vercher and Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby, seem particularly poignant and relevant and finally there’s The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone, the second part of his excellent Skelf trilogy, if the opening doesn’t hook you check your pulse.

Of course, it’s always nice to read old favourites if they live up to the standard of the series and these do: The House of Lamentations by SG MacLean (Seeker/English Civil War), Simone Buchholz’s Mexico Street (Chastity Riley) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/mexico-street-by-simone-buchholz/, James Swallow’s Rogue (High Octane), Andrea Camilleri’s The Sicilian Method (Montalbano), Volker Kutschers’s The March Fallen (Gereon Rath), Steve Cavanagh’s Fifty Fifty (Eddie Flynn, legal thriller) https://nbmagazine.co.uk/fifty-fifty-by-steve-cavanagh/, How’s the Pain? by Pascal Garnier, absurd, transgressive French crime fiction and Puppies by Maurizio de Giovanni, (Pizzofalcone series). With honourable mentions for Massimo Carlotto, Abir Mukherjee (technically 2019 but I read it this year), Amer Anwar, Olivia Keirnan, William Shaw, Eric Vuillard, Maggie Hamand, Parker Bilal, Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Ivy Pochoda, Fernanda Melchor, Selva Almada and Max Annas.

For the online edition of NB magazine I interviewed Mark Ellis https://nbmagazine.co.uk/interview-paul-burke-meets-mark-ellis-author-of-a-death-in-mayfair/, David Gilman, Steph Cha https://nbmagazine.co.uk/interview-paul-burke-meets-steph-cha-author-of-your-house-will-pay/, Rod Humphris and Tom Bouman and wrote features on new publishers/imprints: Viper Books, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/nb-meets-viper-books/, Canelo Crime, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/25110-2/, and V&Q Books, https://nbmagazine.co.uk/three-german-novels-form-new-imprint-vq/.

No one would want another year like 2020 but for books it was still a great year and there are a few things to look forward to in 2021:

Slough House Mick Herron (state of the nation/spy novel), Light Seekers Femi Kayode, The Khan Saima Mir, The Old Enemy Henry Porter (contemporary spy story), Crocodile Tears Mercedes Rosende, The Foreign Girls Sergio Olguín, The Sanatorium Sarah Pearce, Your Neighbour’s Wife Tony Parsons, Nick Michael Farris Smith, and new ones from David Peace, Viet Than Nguyen, Kevin Barry, kazuo Ishiguru, Richard Flanagan, Yaa Gyasi, Hafsa Zayyan, Rachel Kushner, Ken Bruen and Doug Johnstone.

Among the notable departures this year, (RIP). Clive Cussler, Alice Lurie, George Steiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Charles Portis, Rubem Fonseca, Maj Sjowall, Per Olav Enquist, Jan Morris, Jill Paton Walsh.

One last note for crime fiction fans. If you’re looking for something new; a wrecking ball of a character (Graeme Macrae Burnett), a blistering story, something grounded and real – look to Mexico Street by the Queen of Krimi, my personal favourite, Simone Buchholz. If you like this one, get the first two, Blue Night and Beton Rouge, there’s plenty of time of read them before the next in the series Hotel Cartagena arrives in March 2021.

Marshmallows

Marshmallows by Colin O’Sullivan

Preview: to be published on NB Magazine

This is the third novel by O’Sullivan that I’ve reviewed after Killarney Blues and Dark Manual. I like Colin O’Sullivan, his novels are a constant surprise; the story darkens with every page and yet there’s always a witty undertone – it’s all so unpredictable. Marshmallows even has a soundtrack, as the drama plays out, an O’Sullivan trope; naturally it’s Christmas oriented as this tale is set on Christmas Eve. Not that this is the kind of Christmas you would wish on anyone, or perhaps you might come to think that the mayhem and violence is deserved?

Christmas Eve. Brick and Brac, not their real names, are brothers, good soldiers, able to follow orders to the letter, of course, no one would have these boys in their army, they inhabit a more disordered world – but every step they take is planned. Brick drives a white van, it’s the middle of the night, he stops at an unmanned petrol station, he smashes the surveillance cameras and…leaves? Why? That will become clear.

So the season of goodwill is underway but not everyone is feeling the festive cheer, Ben doesn’t care for it for a start. The nightmares never really went away and they burst into his mind during the daytime too now. Ben is a set designer, he’s sitting at the kitchen table preparing ‘special’ homemade Christmas crackers for the party at boyfriend David’s parents’ house later. David emerges from the bedroom, he’s a carefree character, not at all like Ben; he was out again last night, partying, Ben doesn’t approve, David thinks Ben is too moody, too introvert. They’ve been together for just over a year, if opposites attract that must be why these two got together, unless there’s something else afoot? David asks if there’ll be jokes in the crackers. Ben tells him more like instructions, and then he lies, making something up on the spot. The cracker instruction might say – stand up, put on a Christmas hat and recite a line of poetry. David says wrap it well and Ben replies:

‘I always wrap things up nicely.’

David’s parents, Charles, actor and TV personality, and Lydia are preparing for their guests. They hope Ben will stabilise David’s wilder side, get him to knuckle down to his PhD, put his life on track. Everything is about to get detailed.

The little theatre with the Gothic facade has been restored Brick has the keys, the boss wants to put on a play, there’s a solitary tree on the stage, the venue is ready. Brick and Brac are Waiting for Godot.

O’Sullivan’s latest novel intertwines several stories elegantly, this novel is gripping, intriguing and clever. I’d much rather read this than a happy ever after Christmas tale, this is a story that bites.

Betimes Books, paperback, ISBN 9781916156548, out now