Philip Kerr’s last book, the difference between dogs and cats, Else Ury’s books: newsletter, October 11, 2019

October 14, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, October 11, 2019.


When does a dry spell become a drought? In East Tennessee, we have had only one good rainstorm in the last two and a half months. But no one yet is calling it a drought, probably because from last October through May, we had so much rain that it was difficult to get much done outside. As Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote: So it goes.

The newsletter runs a bit long this week, so I’ll keep this introduction short. Have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,663 subscribers and had a 25.6 percent open rate; 4 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Philip Kerr’s last book

Author Philip Kerr got very bad news in July 2017. He had stage 4 cancer, and the doctor gave him between one and two years to live — although, she said, she had had a patient in his condition that lived for five years.

“I’ve got five years,” Kerr said to his wife, Jane, when they got to their car outside the doctor’s office.

He didn’t. He lived for only eight more months.

But during that time he wrote every day, as he had always done, and he even wrote in the chemotherapy office while awaiting his treatments. He had one more Bernie Gunther novel to write, and he was determined to finish it.

Gunther is the skeptical police detective that Kerr puts inside Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It’s an odd place for a tough, cynical, independent man to be. But Kerr knew enough about the time and place to make it believable.

As Jane Kerr writes of those last months with Philip:

Philip’s was a remarkable talent and it was fascinating to see it operating close up over the space of thirty years. Before we met he had written a couple of unpublished novels while he searched for his theme, before working out the perfect combination of what he loved – detective fiction and twentieth century Germany. In particular, he was tickled by the idea of a detective solving everyday crimes against the backdrop of the greatest crime of the century. As Bernie says in The Lady From Zagreb, ‘Being a Berlin cop in 1942 was a little like putting down mousetraps in a cage full of tigers.’ Source: Hello from Philip’s wife, Jane, | Philip Kerr

Kerr took the last eight months of his life to produce a final novel, Metropolis. This one takes Gunther back to pre-Nazi Weimar Germany and to a time when Gunther is a young police detective.

Kerr was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1956 and worked as an advertising copywriter before becoming a full-time writer. He published his first novel in 1989 and was prolific for the remainder of his life. Not only did he write the Bernie Gunther novels, but he also wrote children’s books (The Children of the Lamp series) and non-fiction works. His Bernie Gunther character is a cynical, hard-bitten guy who navigates the dangerous Nazi shoals with a lot of verve and a little luck.

Introducing his last novel, Jane Kerr writes:

I have never met any writer with more ideas. He loved mining the events of twentieth-century Europe and was always on the lookout for a country or situation in which Bernie might intervene. Perhaps our happiest times were research trips; whether to the Berghof, or Heydrich’s country home in Prague, or Potsdam. . . .
Counter-intuitively, Philip did not want his last novel to feature an aging Bernie, and thus Metropolis takes his hero back to 1928 when he was a young cop, just starting out. Most readers like their Bernie world-weary – the jaded, philosophical Gunther who says, ‘I’m no longer young enough, nor quite thin enough, to share a single bed with anything other than a hangover or a cigarette’. They might wonder if a fresh-faced younger model can measure up.
They needn’t worry. As Metropolis triumphantly reveals, cynicism, mockery, intelligence and wit were always Bernie’s birthright.

Kerr died on March 23, 2018.

A reader responds: The major difference between dogs and cats

A faithful reader, Ed H., responded to the piece in last week’s newsletter about dogs and cats:
You probably already know the major difference between dogs and cats.
Dog: My master gives me water to drink when I am thirsty, food to eat when I am hungry, praises me, and comforts me when I am not well. My master caters to my every need and loves me with all his heart. He must be God!
Cat: My master gives me water to drink when I am thirsty, food to eat when I am hungry, praises me, and comforts me when I am not well. My master caters to my every need and loves me with all his heart. I must be God!
I have owned both a Siamese cat and a Burmese cat, among several other interesting breeds. The Siamese cat was very beautiful, but also, of course, extremely aloof and independent. She expected me to come groveling to her, and if she felt like it, she would allow me to pet her or even hold her for a while, before prancing off disdainfully to sit in her favorite window. She never once came to me for affection.
My Burmese was an older, former prize-winning professional show cat. Sadly, as he was past his blue ribbon, money winning prime, his owner had callously dumped him at the local animal pound, where I found him waiting to be executed. Not being familiar with the Burmese breed at the time, I expected him to be much like a Siamese in temperament. However, I happily discovered that Burmese are the polar opposite of Siamese. They are extremely people-oriented and affectionate. They usually attach themselves to one person and cannot bear to be parted from them, even momentarily. My Burmese, Oscar, bonded with me instantly, and would incessantly follow me around the house. Whenever I sat down, Oscar would promptly crawl onto my lap and lie there contentedly until I stood up again. I write software, and Oscar always insisted on snuggling in my lap while I sat at the keyboard. I got as attached to him as he was to me. Oscar was unlike any other cat I have ever known, and a truer, more faithful friend than any dog I have ever had, although my Black Labrador, Tanya, came in at a close second.
The article you linked to in the newsletter does not make any reference to the breeds of the cats and dogs used in the study. The authors seem to naively believe that all breeds interact with humans equally; i.e., a cat is a cat and a dog is a dog. On the contrary, there is a wide spectrum of animal to human relationships between various breeds of both cats and dogs. I believe that the most important factor to us as humans is how we individually relate to and bond with our animals.
This relationship extends beyond just dogs and cats. Years ago, we raised a fawn in our home from the age of one week to one year, at which time we released him to join a protected herd of captive deer in a nearby state park. My wife had rescued the dying, week-old fawn from being eaten alive by fire ants and nursed him back to health. He grew up as a true member of our family. In every respect, he treated me as his “father”, my wife as his “mother”, and our ten-year-old son as his “brother” and pal. I will never forget the two of them racing together through the rooms, back and forth, from one end of the house to the other. He would listen for my car pulling into the driveway each evening when I came home from work, and would wait at the door to greet me as I stepped inside. He slept on a soft nest of blankets behind the couch in our living room.
Giving him up to be with his own kind was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. When I visited him in the park weeks later, he came running out of the herd to me at the fence, begging me with his eyes to take him “home” with me, away from “his own kind” to be with the only family he had ever known, not understanding why he could no longer live with us. It still pains me to this day that I had to leave him there. It was like abandoning one’s own child at an orphanage.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Breen’s research on the truly Revolutionary War

Just how revolutionary was the American Revolutionary War?

Pretty revolutionary, according to historian T. H. Breen, who has written a recently-published book examining the thinking that went on behind the American colonies’ break with the mother country.

What we call the American Revolution cannot be linked to a single moment such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it was a gradual shift in popular thinking about the relation between ordi­nary people and government power. The revolution was a process, contin­gent and open—ended, a complex move from revolution to Revolution. The new men took charge of community affairs before they became revolutionaries, before most of them even openly advocated national independence. They were caught up by the sudden collapse of British authority outside a few major port cities. They learned on the job, gaining a measure of self­-confidence through the daily challenge of policing politically suspicious neighbors, recruiting Continental soldiers, overseeing the local militia, collecting taxes, and supplying soldiers with food and blankets. Source: The Slow Build Up to the American Revolution | Literary Hub

Government by the people — a concept we take for granted today — was not something that was widely thought of or necessarily popular in the eighteenth century. People needed a king, or some other God-given authority, to maintain a civil society.

The fact that King George III and the English Parliament were acting in such an obviously contrary way to the interests and desires of the colonists destroyed this foundation of authority.

Breen argues that the changing political situation eventually produced a “new political culture.”

The driving force behind the creation of a regime based on the will of the people can be found in the quotidian experiences of managing local affairs, of actually participating in a political system in which ordinary Americans found that they had to negotiate power with other ordinary Americans, people who insisted that they were as good as any other member of civil society, in essence discovering a powerful sense of mutual equality that remains the rhetorical foundation of our political culture. A government by the people was not something that the revolutionaries could take for granted; it had to be discovered and then reaffirmed by living through a challenging period of political change.

Breen’s book is The Will of the People. He has written an article in (The Slow Build Up to the American Revolution | Literary Hubthat outlines some of his arguments, and it is well worth the few minutes it takes to read it.

Else Ury perished, but her young readers clung to her books

There’s something about a book that doesn’t die — even in a regime as authoritarian as Nazi Germany.

In the 1920s, one of the most popular authors in the Weimar Republic of Germany was Else Ury, who wrote a series of children’s books known as the Nesthäkchen series. These ten books featured a feisty, blond-headed girl Annemarie Braun who always seemed to be challenging the norms that society had set for a middle-class girl of her time.

As such, the books became wildly popular and made Ury a rich woman. Ury had already had great success as an author. She published many books that made her a literary superstar in Germany.

But Ury had a problem. She was Jewish, and being a literary star did not offer her any protection from the Nazis. She was prevented from publishing and stripped of all privileges. Eventually, in 1943, she was deported to Auschwitz in Poland and died soon thereafter.

The German children who were Ury’s biggest fans did not know — or care — that she was Jewish and an “enemy of the state.” They loved her books, and as the war grew worse for the German people, these children cherished and protected their books. Even through the bombings and other disruptions of the war, children clung to their books.

After the war when those children had grown up, they never forgot those books or their author. They told their children about the books, and eventually, Ury’s works were revived. Here’s how the New York Times begins its recently-published obituary of Ury:

What stood out was the thick, white “U” of her last name, which had been carefully painted on a brown leather suitcase that was loaded, along with the belongings of 1,190 other Jews, onto a train in January 1943. The destination was Auschwitz.
The suitcase survived the Holocaust. Its owner, Else Ury, did not.
Decades later a group of high school girls, visiting the concentration camp’s memorial site on a class trip from Berlin, noticed the suitcase among others in an exhibit and recognized the name immediately: Else Ury was the author of “Nesthäkchen,” a series of books about a blue-eyed blond girl from a middle-class German family.
Ury wrote more than 30 books for children, in addition to short stories and travelogues for a Berlin newspaper. Her books sold millions of copies from 1918 to 1933. Then, with the Nazis in power, she was barred as a Jew from publishing her work, even though her last book featured Adolf Hitler as a hero.
The “Nesthäkchen” series was reprinted after World War II and became the basis of a television show that attracted 13 million viewers, including the girls who had noticed the suitcase. But neither her publisher nor the TV series mentioned what had happened to Ury during the war. Source: Overlooked No More: Else Ury’s Stories Survived World War II. She Did Not. – The New York Times

The obituary tells the sometimes convoluted story of how Ury’s work and memory were revived. Her life ended tragically. But her writing survived and continues to touch readers.

Illustration: An illustration from one of the books of the Nesthäkchen series.

Verse and Vision

An updated list of all of the Verse and Vision videos can be found at this link on I have not produced one for a couple of weeks now but will try to gear up again soon.


Jimi L.: I have a cat and a dog.

The cat was given to me three years ago and she curls up next to me when I am feeling sick or hurt and has licked my face when I have cried. Sosa follows me to the kitchen but never gets underfoot and never helps herself to my food.

I found Lady as a pup, dumped in a cardboard box at the end of my driveway last fall. I love her to bits, but she chews on everything, steals food off the table, and seems to care less if I trip over her and fall.

I’ve always been more of a cat lover.

Donna A.: I enjoy reading your newsletter. You cover a lot of subjects I’m interested in, especially your article about Charles Willson Peale. Mr. Peale painted a portrait of my first cousin, seven times removed. I’d never heard of David Rittenhouse (right) until I discovered him while researching my family history. He was a brilliant astronomer, clockmaker, surveyor, and first Director of the U.S. Mint. Look forward to your next newsletter.

Kitty G.: I have had dogs and cats all my life. I prefer cats, well, I mean I have been called Kitty since birth! Now I love my dog but I really love my cats. Have a blessed weekend.

Vicki G.: My cat, Leo, has a definite strong bond with me. I think every cat I’ve ever lived with (not owned!) has known their name, and believe me, in 60+ years I’ve had a lot of feline ‘roommates.’

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Untitled

Best quote of the week:

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent — lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.” Tove Jansson, Swedish author of children’s books, (1914-2001)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Emma Hart Willard’s visual learning, N.C. Wyeth’s trip west, and JK Rowling on what it takes to write: newsletter, October 4, 2019



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