Sunday, 25 March 2018

Vale Philip Kerr 1956 - 2018

Philip Kerr: Creator of Bernie Gunther

Very sad news this weekend, with the announcement of the death of Philip Kerr on Friday 23rd Mach 2018. Starting from a career in advertising, Philip Kerr will be long remembered for his wonderful series of books featuring Bernie Gunther, a hard-bitten, essentially moral, German policeman; Gunther is not without his own weaknesses and demons, but when faced with moral choices, always seems to make the right choice, all-be-it often with a very hard edge.

The twelve book series started in 1989 with "March Violets", which is written in a very punchy, hard-boiled style, owing much to Hammett and Chandler, but set in a Germany of 1936, where the Nazi regime is consolidating its power and preparing for war. Bernie investigates the murders of family members of a rich industry mandarin,and leads us through the dark and dangerous world of pre-war Berlin, ending up in the Dachau concentration camp.

The next two books, "The Pale Criminal", published in 1990, and "A German Requiem", 1991, continue in a similar vein and style, with stories set in Berlin in 1938 and Vienna in 1947 respectively. These first three novellas were re-published together by Penguin in 1993 under the title "Berlin Noir".

The fourth book in the series, "The One from the Other", did not appear until 2006. It is set in Munich in 1949, and is set in the world of post war former Nazis and all the recriminations found in a defeated nation. Gunther is now a private detective looking for a former Nazi war criminal on behalf of his wife. 15 years on, Kerr's style has become more mature and he has found his own authentic voice, nit having to rely on the hard-boiled tricks of the first three stories.

The remaining eight books, which appeared between 2008 , "A Quiet Flame", and 2017 "Prussian Blue" explore Gunther's career between 1934 and 1956, with several involving a flash-back flash-forward structure, which is managed very smoothly, are all written in the mature late style and are an absolute joy to read.

I have read all of the Bernie Gunther books twice, both in the order in which they were published, and in the chronological order, which runs from book 6 "If the Dead Rise Not", set in 1934 to book 11, "The Other Side of Silence", which is set in 1956. My enjoyment was not dependent on the order of reading, but I do suggest that the first three early titles should perhaps be read first, as the stylistic change may jar somewhat.

The only bright news about Bernie Gunther is there is one final book, "Greeks Bearing Gifts" which is due out on April 3rd 2018. I have already ordered my copy and will read it with a mixture of pleasure and sadness.

Vale Philip Kerr. You will be sorely missed.

The Bernie Gunther Series

 1. March Violets 1989

 2. The Pale Criminal 1990

 3. A German Requiem 1991

 4. The One From the Other 2006

 5. A Quiet Flame 2008

 6. If the Dead Rise Not  2009

 7. Field Grey 2010

 8. Prague Fatal 2011

 9. A Man Without Breath 2013

10. The Lady From Zagreb 2015

11. The Other Side of Silence 2016

12. Prussian Blue 2017

13. Greeks Bearing Gifts 2018

Saturday, 24 February 2018

1959 Psycho: Robert Bloch

Psycho now tends to mean the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock made in 1960 with Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. The famous “murder in the shower” scene with the electrifying music of Bernard Herrmann remains an iconic series of images in popular culture.

The film is based on the book Psycho by Robert Bloch (1917-1994), which was published in New York by Simon and Schuster in 1959 and in London by Robert Hale in 1960. Block had a long history of writing tales with supernatural content and was part of the circle of H.P. Lovecraft and a regular contributor to Weird Tales. He wrote hundreds of stories and more than 30 novels during a long career which started in 1935. Late in his life he wrote The Jekyll Legacy, a sequel to Stephenson’s famous novel.

First editions of Psycho are becoming increasingly hard to find. Collectors would be happy with either the American or English first edition. The New York edition in very good condition in dust wrapper will cost around $1000; the London edition about half that price. Both of these books are shown below.

An American first edition signed by Janet Leigh can be had for $5000.

        New York edition, 1959                                                            London edition, 1960

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1938 Rebecca: Daphne du Maurier

Dame Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was a best-selling author of romantic and macabre stories, novels and plays. Many of her best works, particularly those with a Gothic inspiration, have been the subject of successful films, such as Jamaica Inn, The Birds, Don’t Look Now and most famously Rebecca.

Rebecca was du Maurier’s most successful book, being reprinted multiple times and selling 3 million copies by 1970. It starts with one of the most famous first lines in literature. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The line is spoken by the “second Mrs de Winter, the narrator of the story, whose given name is never revealed. The book contains the classic gothic character, Mrs. Danvers the housekeeper of Manderley, and has many close parallels to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The Alfred Hitchcock film version (1940) went a long way to establishing the enduring fame of Rebecca.

There are thousands of copies of the many impressions of the early English editions of Rebecca published by Gollancz in the standard house yellow dust wrapper. The true first impression of the first edition was 20,000 copies. It is shown below and is the one that collectors want.

Friday, 23 February 2018

1911 The Phantom of the Opera: Gaston Leroux

1911 The Phantom of the Opera: Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera was first published in French as Le Fantome de l’Opera as a serial in the magazine Le Gaulois from 1909 to 1910. It first appeared as a book in March 1910 under the same title, published in Paris by Pierre Lafitte. The story was based on some of the myths and stories associated with the Opera Garnier in Paris and a plot element from Carl Maria von Weber’s production in Paris of his best-known opera Die Freischutz.

Gaston Leroux (1868-1927) wrote more than sixty novels, but is now only remembered for the Phantom, largely because of the many stage and film versions that it has inspired, culminating in the now immortal musical version of Andre Lloyd Webber in 1986.

The first edition in English appeared in 1911, published in New York by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, with a coloured frontispiece and four double page folding coloured plates. This is the edition that most English-speaking collectors want to find. The dust wrapper is famously rare and most copies don’t have the dust wrapper present. 

Here it is the book and its wrapper.

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1902 The Hound of the Baskervilles: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

1902 The Hound of the Baskervilles: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1859-1930) most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, mostly appeared as the hero of short stories that were first published in The Strand Magazine, before being published as collected stories by the magazine’s publisher George Newnes. All of these are highly collectible, but the real prize for the book collector are the first editions of the four Sherlock Holmes novels; A Study in Scarlet (1887), The Sign of Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Valley of Fear (1915).

The Hound of the Baskervilles is clearly in the Gothic tradition, with the misty, boggy Dartmoor setting, the tales of a supernatural hound, a cursed family, a dreadful face hinting at a ghastly death, and the Gothic Baskerville Hall. Doyle himself described the story as a “Victorian Creeper”.

 The story first appeared in serialised form in 1901-1902 in The Strand Magazine, accompanied by the very apt illustrations by Sidney Paget. The first book form, published by Newnes in 1902 is the most elegantly bound of all four of the Holmes Novels and is highly desirable. The top board, designed by Alfred Garth Jones, is shown below.

1897 Dracula: Bram Stoker

1897 Dracula: Bram Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker (1847-1912) was an Irish writer and theatrical manager, who spent most of his working life as the theatre manager and friend of the great actor Sir Henry Irving.
Stoker worked for about ten years to produce his most famous work, Dracula in 1897.

Part of the inspiration for Dracula came from a family holiday that Stoker spent at Whitby in Yorkshire in 1890, together with some childhood memories of seeing dessicated corpses in the crypt of a Dublin church. The result was Dracula, published by Constable in 1897 in a striking yellow cloth binding with blood red text. His publisher felt that the original text was a little too long and encouraged Stoker to edit his work to produce an abridged edition. This was published by Constable in 1901, in the most collectible dust wrapper of the 20th century.

The book has spawned more films and more imitators than any other book of the 19th or 20th centuries. Images from the 1922 silent film Nosferatu with Max Schreck as Count Orlok and the 1931 film of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi in the title role have become modern icons.

The 1897 first English edition cover from 1897 and the famous dust wrapper from the abridged version of 1901 are shown below. Both were published by Archibald Constable.

1894 Trilby: George du Maurier

1894 Trilby: George du Maurier

George du Maurier (1834-1896) was a Punch cartoonist and an occasional author. He was also the father of the actor Gerald du Maurier, grandfather of the author Daphne du Maurier and grandfather of the five Llewellyn brothers who inspired Peter Pan.

He was famous during his lifetime for his cartoons in Punch which gently mocked British society. His most famous cartoon was The Curate’s Egg, which introduced that phrase into the English language. He is best known today as the author of Trilby, a story which was initially serialised in Harpers Magazine in 1894, before appearing in book form in 1895.

It tells the story of an Irish girl, Trilby O’Ferrall, who worked as an artists model in the bohemian art world of Paris in the 1860s, and particularly gained its fame for the hypnotic relationship between the tone-deaf Trilby and her manipulative singing coach, Svengali. It has given us the words “Triby”, for the hat that Trilby wore, and “Svengali”, for a malevolent, dominant man. It also is the first instance of the phrase “in the altogether” meaning naked.

Generally speaking, the first appearance of a novel in parts or in a magazine the most collectaible form of that work. However, in this instance, most collectors would prefer the 1895 book edition to the magazine parts. My copy of the first English edition of 1895 is shown below.