I have just read 2 more ARCs for Penguingroup Books. Both will be published by next month. They are:
Strindberg's Star - Jan Wallentin (May, 2012)
Prague Fatale - Philip Kerr (April, 2012)
The first one I liked, and the second one I really liked.
Strindberg's Star was written by a Swedish author, and this is his first book. It combines a murder mystery with a little bit of mysticism and Norse mythology. In 1897, Nils Strindberg crashed his hot air balloon at the North Pole. He is carrying an old Egyptian ankh and a star. There is a secret society from Germany that spends the next 115 years trying to track those 2 pieces down. The society will do anything to get their hands on both because of their magical/mystical properties. Separate, neither is of any value. Together, it is believed that they can lead to mircles.
The hero, Don Titelman, is really an anti-hero. He is 43 years old and takes a large array of pills, self-prescribed, to help him get through life. It's not often that such a seemingly pathetic figure can generate so much sympathy, maybe even empathy. He has a very quirky sister who even provides him with a railroad car that is not registered in the system, which enables him to travel off the grid (presumably). Penguingroup Books describes Strindberg's Star as a "cross-genre thriller." I would have to agree with that. Would I run out and buy Wallentin's next book (which will not be about Titelman)? Perhaps. At the very least, it's a solid read, with suspense, action, and a fairly satisfying ending. Unless you're expecting Stieg Larsson (just because Wallentin is also a Swede), I would recommend this one.
Philip Kerr's book was a true revelation. This book is the latest in a long series and still felt like book #1. I didn't feel that I needed to read earlier books to know the protagonist's history. It stood on its own. The book has a very unusual premise. It's 1941 in Berlin. Bernie Gunther is a Berlin policeman. He's not a Nazi and not a member of the Party. He has been to the East and seen, and participated in, atrocities that haunt him every night. He often believes that he would just as soon kill himself than live with the memories.
So, he's living in the middle of the Nazis during WWII. He's not only an excellent policeman, he also has a conscience. He doesn't understand why the Jews are being singled out for "special treatment." In fact, he has 2 Jewish widows living in his office building who he risks his own well-being for in order to help feed. If the fact that he is not like the others were the only theme, it would still be interesting. But what amps up the story is the fact that one of the leading Nazis, Reinhard Heydrich, brings him to Prague to investigate a murder. On the one hand, here is Gunther who hates the Nazis, and, in particular, Heydrich, with a smoldering passion. On the other hand, he is working directly for Heydrich. It makes for a lot of very interesting confrontations/altercations with Heydrich and other high-ranking Nazis. Throw in a lover/paramour/whore who has an interesting story to tell(!), and you get a book that has a bunch of different elements.
I thought it was very well written, extremely creative, and seemingly authentic (especially based on the author's notes at the end of the book). I don't know how a British author knows so much about Nazi Germany, but it certainly appears that he does.
Read Strindberg's Star when you get to the bottom of the stack of books on your nightstand. Move Prague Fatale to the top (or near the top) of that same stack of books. You'll thank me for it.