Back Again! Philip Kerr, Daphne du Maurier, and Plenty of Self-Promotion

Been quiet around here, as I was in Canada for four weeks recuperating from life and seeing friends and family.


I also did some reading, though never as much as I’d like to (maybe when my daughter is a little older). Over the next few days, I’ll try to write short posts on some of the things I got through.

In the meantime, if you like crime fiction and don’t already know them, let me recommend to you the first three books in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Guenther series set in Nazi-era Germany. They are excellent, with convoluted hard-boiled type plots that remain on the right side of intelligibility; lots of fascinating, mostly convincing depictions of how someone might have rejected the regime without being particularly noble or righteous; and, most interestingly, ingenious use of German slang transliterated into English (the cops are called Bulls because in German they are Bulle, etc.). Kerr wrote these three as a trilogy and then put Bernie to rest, but you can’t keep a good detective down: he revived them several years later and now there are a lot of them. I’ve got the fourth waiting for me at the library. Curious to see if the newer ones hold up.

No matter what kind of books you like, you should absolutely read Daphne Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat. At first I wasn’t sure about this story of doubles—an English scholar of French history bumps into a Frenchman whom he resembles in every way, physically at least, and is forced to take on his life—because stories of mistaken identities tend to stress me out. But this is a really smart and fascinating book. I was absorbed by it in a way that’s rare for me these days; I really cared about what happened. It’s an unexpectedly moral book. Instead of trying to write a proper review, I’ll send you to Rohan’s excellent take, which I couldn’t improve on.

And now some self-promotion:

Before I left for Canada I was writing quite a lot. Here are some links to recent publications:

For (the now departed and already mourned) Numéro Cinq I reviewed Carl Seelig’s reminiscences of his friendship with Robert Walser and Hans Keilson’s diary written while living in hiding under a false identity in wartime Holland. Both are excellent and well worth your time.

For Open Letters Monthly (still the journal dearest to my heart) I wrote about Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer’s memoir of her life in Vermont as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe. Equal parts sad and sprightly, this recently reissued book is definitely worth a look.

For The Three Percent Review (a new venue for me) I discussed Swiss writer Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes. I was underwhelmed.

Last but not least, for the summer issue of The Quarterly Conversation I wrote a review essay on the enigmatic French-Swiss writer Roger Lewinter. My thanks to Scott Esposito for commissioning and improving it with his careful editing.

On an entirely unrelated note, I was featured in this piece in the Jerusalem Post about my thoughts as a Jew by Choice on some recent controversies in Israel regarding conversion. I haven’t read the comments, but I’m told you do so at your peril.

Next time, a proper review.

17 thoughts on “Back Again! Philip Kerr, Daphne du Maurier, and Plenty of Self-Promotion

  1. Glad to hear that you had a good holiday, a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of life. The Scapegoat sounds terrific. I’ve done well with du Maurier in the past, particularly Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel.

    • I think you’d like the Scapegoat a lot, Jacqui. I don’t know du Maurier as well as I want to (I’ve read Jamaica Inn and most of Rebecca–had to give it up because I couldn’t read it without seeing the movie characters–I adore that film and have seen it many times). My Cousin Rachel is high on my list. But on my limited experience, The Scapegoat is a bit different in register/tone. Anyway, I was very impressed.

  2. I remember those early Philip Kerr novels well! He followed them with a rather interesting s/f crime novel (though I notice it’s set in 2013) called A Philosophical Investigation. I’ve read a few of the later ones and I don’t think they are as good though still enjoyable.
    I’ve also read a few Peter Stamm novels but not Agnes. I find them underwhelming in a good way!

  3. Pingback: “As Long as We Both Should Live”: Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (Review) | Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau

  4. Pingback: 2017 Year in Reading | Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau

  5. I love Seelig’s book about his Walks with Robert Walser; it’s a must for everyone with the slightest interest in this remarkable Swiss author. – By the way, I have a new book by Perikles Monioudis on Robert Walser on my TBR pile, and it received excellent reviews in the German-language media. It contains also many rare and interesting photos of Walser.

    • I hadn’t heard of this book, but just looked it up and it sounds excellent. At one point I was planning to include Walser in my dissertation and spent a few days in the old Walser archive in Zürich (before it moved to Bern). Fun times.

  6. Pingback: What I Read, October 2020 | Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau

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