Research by Philip Kerr

2 Mins read

We all like an occasional break from our usual reading fare, and perhaps writers of long-standing series also feel the need to break out from their shackles, no matter how successful. Philip Kerr is much loved for his subtle, meticulously researched Bernie Gunther series set in war time Germany. This standalone thriller is a very different kind of book – a light-hearted, fun holiday read. It also makes some sly digs at prolific authors and their ghostwriters, the publishing industry, the super-rich and even the locations themselves.

Just to give you a quick feel for this book, who can resist this succinct description of Geneva: “It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about a city that was once home to a bigot like John Calvin and which in le jet d’eau has a landmark that resembles nothing so much as a giant stream of piss.”

Of course, this is not the author himself talking. It is one of the jaded middle-aged protagonists, who becomes involved in an adventure much better suited to fit young people. It is this discrepancy between real-life action and the theoretical knowledge of dangerous situations that a thriller writer gains through reseearch which makes this novel very funny.

John Huston is a bestselling writing machine – he publishes so many books a year that he has resorted to just giving the plot outlines, while a whole team of ghostwriters (whom he somewhat sneeringly refers to as his ‘atelier’) do the actual writing. He is extremely wealthy and enjoys the high life in a tax haven, with a fleet of expensive cars and a glamorous trophy wife. When said wife is found murdered in their Monaco penthouse, Huston disappears and thus becomes the prime suspect for the police. But there are many other people who may be keen to take their revenge on the writer and his family, for he has recently shut down his publishing production line thanks to a desire to write something himself, of lasting quality. All the agents, publicists, authors and hangers-on who were financially dependent on him are furious.

Huston is known for his in-depth research into the criminal world, so could he have arranged his own disappearance? And, if he’s not guilty, to what purpose? His oldest collaborator, Don Irvine, suspects he’s on the run, but just how far is he willing to go to protect his friend?

Written in a tongue-in-cheek style, with a plot relying heavily on coincidences and clever twists, this feels like a parody of the international thriller genre. The gentle mocking of the two main protagonists’ self-delusional egos was particularly enjoyable. Yet there is plenty of excitement, brutality and ruthlessness throughout. At times there are scenes which strain credibility and become almost soap opera snippets. To his long-standing fans, Research may feel a little more slapdash effort than Philip Kerr’s usual output – a bit of a busman’s holiday. However, if it’s a diversion which prevents the writer from becoming stale, it’s a good effort and one which certainly will tick many boxes this holiday season.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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