This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

The Lady from Zagreb

Philip Kerr (Quercus: £18.99; e-book £6.64)

This is another superb offering by Philip Kerr of his eponymous Berlin detective Bernie Gunther. Set in the summer of 1942, Gunther is charged by Goebbels to persuade Dalia Dresner, the subject of the book's title, to travel back to Berlin and star in another film, directed by an anti-semite, given that Goebbels heads the UFA film studio, and has amorous desires on the blonde beauty. All it would seek take is the delivery of a letter to her father, who was last believed to be a priest in Yugoslavia. Alongside this is the murder of Dr Heckholz, a Berlin lawyer who acts for Madame Minoux, whose house at Wannsee was confiscated as a result of his fraudulent activities. All becomes crystal clear, in a narrative that zips along and grips the reader from beginning to end. Kerr writes of the horrors visited on Serbs, oft forgotten, at the hands of the Ustaše, the ultra nationalist, fiercely Catholic, Croatian fascists headquartered in Zagreb during the war. The roles of Swiss industrialists and of Daimler-Benz also come under the spotlight, together with the Allied intelligence services based in Switzerland during the war. This is a classic novel and Kerr's ability to bring Berlin life and the realities of life under the Nazis is astounding. A brilliantly enjoyable and memorable read.

Signs Preceding the End of the World

Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman (And Other Stories: £8.99; e-book £6.64)

This little book, which can easily be read at a sitting, is on the face of it the simplest of stories. A feisty Mexican lady called Makina crosses the border into the USA in search of her brother, finds her brother and encounters on her way much of the dark side of life.

The novel begins with her narrow escape when a sinkhole suddenly opens up in front of her, and ends in The Obsidian Place With No Windows or Holes For The Smoke. Is she about to be assimilated into the new country as her brother has, or will she ever make it home as she had planned? What will represent the end of the world according to Herrera? Has Makina fallen into it? For all its crime and lack of advantages, Makina’s Mexico seems an infinitely preferable place to cross-border USA with its racism and casual violence. This is a difficult book, and I found some of the translation a little clunky. For example, despite Ms Dillon’s explanatory note, I still have no idea what is meant when I read that Makina versed someone.

That, of course, is no fault of Senor Herrera. To write in such a short and simple style, yet to deliver something as moving and memorable takes great skill. I may never fully understand this work, but Makina will stay in my head for a long while.

Winners – And How They Succeed

Alastair Campbell (Hutchinson: £20; e-book £ 8.49)

Alastair Campbell can probably be described as the Marmite of communicators. You love him or loathe him, not least because of his key role in the Blair years. Five years on, he remains a supporter of almost everything that took place in the New Labour era, so much so that it is easy to overlook his fascinating career before and since. For many years a journalist, he bounced back from depression and a nervous breakdown, and now works advising politicians and businesses worldwide.

Having encountered many high flyers in all walks of life, he has for years tried to learn what makes them tick, and to apply the lessons, both good and bad, from their experience. For this engrossing book he has interviewed successful people from many walks of life, primarily politics, business and sport. The question is, what makes a winner?

Let's start with his "Holy Trinity" of strategy, leadership and teamship. The last, once you get it, is a much better word than teamwork, as it relates to the cohesion which is needed to make a team greater than the sum of its parts. Many of the buzz words (and, thankfully, there are few in this book) may be used in different senses by different people, but there are underlying themes throughout. Add to these the right mindset, innovation and the correct use of data, and your dish is already richer. Finish up with resilience, crisis management and how to change a setback into an advantage, and you have a fantastic recipe which could assist every managing partner in every firm in Scotland.

We could probably expect Mr Campbell to cite Alex Ferguson and Tony Blair as winners, but who would have anticipated that you would find Anna Wintour, Narendra Modi and the Queen all bracketed together? I can't pretend to distil the real trinity (objective, strategy, tactics) of this book into such a short review, but I would commend it to anyone in business who wants to improve, and who is prepared to be shaken out of his or her comfort zone.


Share this article
Add To Favorites