Monday, April 04, 2016

Philip Kerr and John A. Connell at The Poisoned Pen!

How do you know when it's a special event at The Poisoned Pen?

I think the first really big clue is when they set out wine glasses alongside the microphones!

Denis and I made the trip over to Scottsdale to see British author Philip Kerr sign his eleventh Bernie Gunther mystery The Other Side of Silence and John A. Connell sign his second Mason Collins mystery Spoils of Victory. Kerr flew in from London for the publication day for his new book, and Connell flew in from Madrid, Spain for his first-ever visit to our favorite bookstore. No wonder they polished the wine glasses!

L to R: John A. Connell and Philip Kerr

While Connell admitted to a bit of jet lag, when host Barbara Peters asked Kerr if he was suffering from it, too, Kerr replied, " No. Actually I'm just knackered!" It seems that he decided to go hiking and chose Camelback Mountain-- especially when the cab driver told him that it would take 50 minutes to complete the hike.

Too much trail left!
"I looked at it and thought I could do it easily," Kerr said. Barbara mentioned how many times people have had to be airlifted off the mountain, and Kerr nodded. 

"I thought I'd reached the end of the trail, and then I looked up and couldn't believe how much farther I still had to go! At the end I was in fear for my life." he said.  

After we all finished laughing and commiserating, Peters had Kerr immediately segue into a description of his latest Bernie Gunther mystery, The Other Side of Silence.  Now that World War II has ended, Bernie Gunther is now a concierge at a hotel on Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera and playing a lot of bridge. "In those days, bridge was a necessary social tool," Phil explained. "I like the language used in bridge because I like language that hides things."

After mentioning that Bernie was asked to help with a blackmail case, Barbara told us that she had once been a bridge player, and she'd met her husband during a tournament-- when he turned her in to a judge for cheating. (She wasn't.)

"Somerset Maugham lived just up the road from Bernie's hotel on the Cap Ferrat. He could be openly gay there, which he certainly couldn't do in London. I learned that Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt visited Maugham while he lived there-- two men who were later to become notorious spies," Kerr said.

While doing research, Kerr stayed at La Voile d'Or and played bridge. Later on he discovered that the hotel was the favorite of another author-- Graham Greene.

"May I tell you my awful Harold Pinter story?" Phil asked. Now... were any of us going to say no???

Barbara's reaction to the Pinter story
Kerr and his wife Jane are close to Antonia Fraser's daughter Flora, and accepted an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner. Told that famous playwright Harold Pinter was going to be there, Kerr wasn't impressed. (Pinter wasn't known for being convivial company.)

When Jane asked Pinter what sort of Christmas he was having, he barked, "A f'ing awful one! I've got f'ing cancer!"

When asked what type of cancer, Pinter replied, "Esophageal cancer!"

Phil's wife Jane is known for her diplomacy and being able to smooth ruffled feathers. She told Pinter that she had a friend who'd had the same type of cancer and had made a good recovery. "Bully for your f'ing friend!" Pinter growled.

Now by this time, Kerr had had enough of Pinter throwing F bombs at his wife. "I was ready to drag Pinter outside and paste him! You see, I'm a Scot. I may appear to be very civilized and British, but underneath all Scots are deeply violent and aggressive." (While having that twinkle in their eye, Mr. Kerr?)

Fortunately Jane could see that her husband was about ready to explode, and she skillfully avoided the ensuing fracas. Christmas dinner was not ruined.

It was now time for the ex-pat Mr. Connell to tell us a bit about Spoils of Victory. He asked Kerr what he thought of Garmisch, which is where Connell's latest book is set. They talked a bit about the town, which is located at the foot of the highest mountain in Germany before Connell continued. 

John A. Connell
Garmisch is where all the Nazis were escaping to with all their plundered gold and art. The town was filled with displaced persons, deserters, and war criminals, many of whom formed gangs. As a result, during this period Garmisch was called "the Dodge City of Occupied Germany."

Connell's main character Mason Collins is German-born and speaks fluent German, so he was in Army Intelligence at the beginning of the war. Caught behind enemy lines, he spent most of the war in a prisoner of war camp, eventually finding himself in Buchenwald. At war's end, this former Chicago police detective wanted to go back to being a detective, so he joined the Criminal Investigation Division.

Connell purposely has four to six months between each book and intends to have future books set in places like Tangier and Jerusalem.

Kerr admitted to being a "pantser"-- writing a book without any sort of outline. "From the time I wrote my first Bernie book thirty years ago I've never known what's going to happen from one book to the next."

Available Now!
"I once got in a lot of trouble being a pantser," Connell said, "so now I'm a hybrid."

"I think being a pantser means that your characters are more organic," Kerr said, "but each book is more difficult to write because I've painted myself into so many corners!"

Phil then told us that he'd only recently found out the truth about his grandfather's service during World War I. His grandfather and his brother joined up together, but when the brother was killed during the Battle of Ypres, Kerr's grandfather joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. "The only reason I can think of for my grandfather to keep this quiet is because there were so many pacifists in the Medical Corps that serving in it was thought to be shameful somehow-- even though we know these men were often going unarmed into No Man's Land to bring back the wounded. There was nothing shameful about that service." We all agreed and were thankful that perceptions have changed a bit since then.  

Connell then told us that he's seen how Madrid is still getting rid of street names and monuments associated with Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Evidently it's taken so long because Madrid was one of Franco's last holdouts.

Available Now!
When Barbara mentioned the book about soccer that Kerr had written, Phil said, "I still trip over that word when I have to use it." (Denis who was sitting in the front row commiserated with him as he had a few other times during the event.) "Yes, I was taken to the Real Madrid training grounds-- the holy of holies of the... soccer... world. Writing this book was a way for me to reconnect with the present after writing so many historicals."

Both authors spoke of the great care they have to take to avoid anachronisms in their historical mysteries. "Yes, I once spent an entire day looking up oil filters," Phil said.

When a few more remarks were made about Cap Ferrat and the French Riviera, Kerr told us that Somerset Maugham had called Monaco "a sunny place for shady people," which made us all laugh. That phrase does have a certain ring to it, doesn't it? 

Phil and Barbara both brought up the fact that John Connell is a celebrated camera man, having worked on films like Jurassic Park and Thelma and Louise. "Yes," John said. "They had ten beautiful Thunderbirds for Thelma and Louise-- and they destroyed every single one of them!"

As often happens during events like these, film and television options were brought up. Kerr told us that Robert De Niro had optioned one of his books, but let the option lapse. "De Niro sent me a case of 1966 Chateau Lafitte. As a kiss-off, that's a pretty damned good one!"

Denis and I had a lot to talk about on the way home from this event. Neither of us had read either man's books, but we certainly want to do so now

For those of you who would like to see and hear the event for yourselves, I highly recommend that you watch the Livestream event. It's a good'un!



  1. Oh, lucky you to see Kerr, Cathy! I think his Bernie Gunther series is terrific. And I'm not surprised he's so painstaking about research. The books have such an authentic feel.

    1. And now I know why Barbara Peters always enjoys his events. I could sit and listen to him all day.

  2. I will read this later. I stated The Widow by Fiona Barton and it became a bit like TGOTT which I did not like, but I read your review and persevered. So now I"m into it.
    The power of good reviews.

    1. Ah! Now I see that GOTT = Girl on the Train. It's all clear to me now!

  3. That evening sounds like so much fun. I will try to hear it. What terrific humor bats around at these author events.

    1. The humor is one of the reasons why I love to go!


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