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I Was Jack Mortimer (Pushkin Collection)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A new book from Pushkin Press is always welcome and in I Was Jack Mortimer, they have found a gem of a novel, written in 1933 but as fresh as anything written today. The book, a mixture of farce, murder mystery and character study is set in Vienna.

The book's author Alexander Lernet-Holenia had an interesting life. As a conscript, he took part in the invasion of Poland but from this he wrote what is thought of as the only Austrian resistance novel which was banned by the government because it contained "an ideologically troubled central character, hints at the existence of active political opposition" (Wikipedia). He died in 1976 with a reputation for controversy which made him "the difficult old man of Austrian literature".

Ferdinand Sponer, a young taxi driver picks up a fare outside the railway station who wants to go to the Bristol Hotel. When he arrives at the hotel, he turns to speak to the passenger and finds him dead with a bullet hole in his throat and other wounds leaking blood into the back of his cab.

Sponer's efforts to tell the police are thwarted at every turn and realising how implausible his story is, he decides to dump the body in the Danube and forget the whole thing. Needless to say, this is where things start to go terribly wrong for Sponer. Before long, due to a convoluted series of events he finds himself taking on the identity of the dead man (thus the title of the book). I have to admire the author's inventiveness as the story takes off on a wildly erratic route, with surprises at every turn.

The book has been filmed twice, once in the 1939s and again in 1952, but both times in the German language. The story is as fresh and lively today and would make a great period drama, with such visual scenes as the body being dumped in the Danube, police chases through the streets of the city, Sponer's various and very peculiar courtships, some mysterious goings on in hotel rooms - and all set in the glitz and glamour of Vienna before the War.

The book is translated in a direct and natural style by Ignat Avsey, who is to be commended for a transparent translation which leaves no sense of the book originating in another language.

"I Was Jack Mortimer" is one of those books where to write about much it is to spoil it for other readers. However, I'll finish by saying that I was highly impressed and am grateful to Pushkin Press for rediscovering this novel and arranging for its publication in English.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2013
This fast moving thriller/whodunnit weaves in and out through the traffic of 1930's Vienna.

Who is the man in the back of the taxi? How can he be dead, shot in the throat, on arrival at his destination? Can the young driver find out the truth before he is arrested and charged with the murder? Will he be helped or betrayed by the woman he loves or by the one who loves him?

What causes the hero to take on the identity of the victim?

And who really is Jack Mortimer?

This book is a nostalgic page turner, deftly translated from the German by Ignat Avsey and very stylishly produced by the Pushkin Press. It is a little treasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 2 March 2014
Thank you Pushkin Press for finding another wonderful gem from mid-20th century Europe, in this excellent translation by Ignat Avsey.

With its dry humour and sense of the absurd, Lernet-Holenia's writing reminded me at times of Antal Szerb or Jiri Weil, pitting an ordinary, unspectacular man up against forces beyong his control. The result is an enjoyable, knockabout farce that is underpinned by a subtle but powerful sense of menace. I particularly enjoyed the vivid evocation of Vienna between the wars.

My one criticism - and the reason I have only given four stars - is that it was too short. But to complain that I wanted more is always the sign of a good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2014
This is an exciting tale, well told, if ultimately forgettable. The author paints a gloomy picture of Vienna which suits the dark mood of the story. Nice unexpected twist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2014
This is a good yarn and a very easy read. Slightly surreal but oddly believable in a way. I recommend it.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2014
I enjoyed this thriller, which has a nice sparse style, and a taut story that moves along. I was dissapointed with the translation, which seemed to literal at times (well it used phrases that just aren't common in English and seems out of place). The translator broke up the speech to much, f.i. "Why" he shouted "should I do that?". At times the text includes phrases such as "as we know from before", or "Needless to say" that just don't sit right. Or describe someone sleeping the translator chose the phrase 'He was in the land of Nod', hardly appropriate for what was meant to be a taut thriller.
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