The US President, British Prime Minister, German Chancellor, Russian President and other G8 leaders are taken hostage by terrorists at a summit in Berlin.
Rescue is impossible.
One after another, hostages are executed at point-blank range, killings streamed live, bodies left on show for fifteen minutes to prove that they are dead.
Then the U.S. President is thrown into the killing chair – and shots ring out.
Who is to blame for this cataclysm? Who can resolve the crisis – against a background of terrorist demands which seem impossible to meet, yet which have demonstrators massing outside the Reichstag to support the hostage-takers?
Step forward Helen Gale, diplomat at the British Embassy responsible for summit security. Her journalist husband is a hostage in the embassy. Her lover is deputy head of the elite Summit Security Unit, blamed, like Helen, for the unfolding disaster.
Only Helen’s friend, U.S. diplomat Blore Harl; petite, dark-haired SAS Captain Elle Morgan; and mysterious Georgian business tycoon Oleg Sukanashvili stand behind Helen as she enters the shattered hulk of the Reichstag to stop a bloodbath.
I wrote Blood Summit when I lived in Berlin. The city is haunted by the ghosts of the past. Totalitarianism, war and genocide. Air-raids, occupation and suffering. The Berlin Wall, surveillance and spy-swaps. Finally, since 1989, a city reunified and at peace for the first time in half a century.
At the heart of all this squats the mighty Reichstag building. Stormed by the Red Army as the Third Reich crumbled then left empty for decades, the Reichstag has been restored as the parliament of a reunited Germany.
A symbol of democracy, transparency and hope.
You can visit the restaurant on the roof; climb a staircase to a viewing platform; and stare down, through a bulletproof glass ceiling, into the debating chamber far below.
Can a building be secure, yet exposed? Accessible, yet impenetrable? Open, yet sealed?
What, I thought, if violence and death were to stalk this symbol again? What if a brilliant mind were to conceive a terrorist strike so audacious that it turned the most secure summit venue in the world into the deadliest trap imaginable?
Welcome to Blood Summit. It’s addictive.
The book fits right in, between Ian Fleming and John le Carré. Good company.
“Blood Summit” at Shakespeare & Co in Vienna
It gave me pleasure when Shakespeare & Co, the famous Vienna English language booksellers, offered to stock Blood Summit. I am proud of the book and it has received good reviews (NB if you have read the book and enjoyed it, please write a review on Amazon!) But to see it in an actual bookshop was a thrill.
If you live in Vienna, I suggest you go right down to Shakespeare & Co and buy yourself a book from their well-stocked shelves.
No author can fail to be struck by the split between book sales and Kindle downloads. In my case, roughly 80% of people buy the paperback, even though it costs more (£7.74 vs £2.95 on Amazon.co.uk at time of writing – the price varies with the dollar).
I can understand that. Holding a good book in your hand gives you a surge of hard-wired pleasure.
My Hotel Stories, by contrast, are only available so far as a Kindle edition. Should I bring out a paperback? Views welcome!
The pricing of Blood Summit, incidentally, helps explain Amazon’s model. For my 295-page paperback, printing costs mean the minimum price Amazon allows me to charge is around £6.30. At that price I, as author, receive zero commission.
For a Kindle download, by contrast, an author may sell a book for any price down to 99 US cents. Oddly, between 99 cents and $2.99 the author receives 30% commission; above $2.99 the author receives 70% commission. So even at prices lower than the hard copy book, the author can get a better deal from Kindle sales.
Visiting the beautiful book-nest which is Shakespeare & Co I was struck again by another long-running conflict – that between actual bookshops and Amazon. Here in Austria, many people boycott Amazon, hoping to keep local bookshops going. They have a point, as any recent visitor to London’s devastated bookshop scene can attest. On the other hand, Amazon’s model also allows me to put books, including hard copies, on sale worldwide through the Internet.
Shakespeare & Co is at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna (1st District). It has a webpage and a Facebook page, and is worth a visit. A sketch, including of the excellent Guy Perlaki who was in the shop when I called, is on the also rather fine Vienna Würstelstand site, together with more pictures.
My original Vienna Cafe Reviews story, published in March 2017, included a story about a customer having a bad experience trying to get the bill, back in 1986.
A couple of my Austrian friends sprang to the defence of the waiter. Sure, Vienna cafes had a charming, the-waiter-is-always-right serving ethos, they said. But who wanted subservient waiters? The attitude of Vienna cafe waiters was all about the dignity of labour, and standing up for the right to be treated as a human being.
I recommend the Cafe Schwarzenberg, which is not the cafe referred to below!
I was not so sure. Indeed, these comments reminded me of my 2004 Financial Times piece “When dinner becomes the last supper“, which begins: Friends from Paris, Madrid or New York often ask me: “Why are German waiters so brilliant?” It’s a satire, by the way.
Indeed, I have been in many Vienna cafes (the Sperl, the Bräunerhof and the Tirolerhof spring to mind) which are as traditional as they come, but where the waiters go about their business is an efficient and thoroughly satisfactory way.
Is there any contradiction between efficiency and tradition? I’d welcome your views.
Meanwhile, I thought readers might be interested to read the full story of that 1986 experience. It goes as follows.
I had been invited to lunch by a friend from the Vienna Town Hall (the mayor at that time was Mr Zilk). My friend suggested we go to a certain cafe, famed for its traditions. (more…)
‘One of my favourite restaurants in London is the Laughing Halibut,’ I say as we eat our lunch in Vienna. ‘When I first started eating there in 1979, it was run by this Italian guy, and one of his sons used to work there, a young bloke. Now, the son is still there, he seems to run the place, but he has become a much older man.’
’40 years is a long time, I guess,’ my friend says. ‘The Italian has aged. But you have stayed the same.’
‘Correct! It’s like that Joe Walsh song, Life’s been good to me so far. Great lyrics. It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame, he sings. Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed. Best fish and chips in central London.’
A delicious portion of chips from the Laughing Halibut – RP
I often think of the Laughing Halibut, and would recommend it to anyone visiting or living in London. In fact, I like it so much that it features in a key scene in a novel of mine, which is on ice at present but might see the light of day in a couple of years. The scene also features a phlegmatic Italian waiter.
The scene (which I have lightly edited, for reasons too complex to explain here) is as follows. Angus Fairfax, the protagonist of the book, is meeting his wife Rosie for lunch.
Excerpt from an unpublished novel
Rosie and I had instituted regular Monday lunches when she was promoted – again – twelve months before. ‘You must be in the diary,’ she’d said. ‘Otherwise, I’ll never see you.’
She’d been right. These days, most of our conversations seemed to take place in the Laughing Halibut in Strutton Ground.
Strutton Ground was a curious street. (more…)
I was bemused recently to see a news report headed: Austria ranked by expats as one of unfriendliest countries.
I have lived in Austria for years and have numerous friends. Who are these expats who say Austrians are unfriendly? And who is doing the measuring? I decided to investigate.
It turns out that the report is based on the “Expat Insider 2017” survey carried out by the “InterNations” network.
Austria has a lot to offer – as well as friendly people – Photo RP
“Internations” is a company which works to help expats settle in and get to know other expats (slogan: “Wherever in the world life takes you, our InterNations Communities help you feel at home”).
Its full report, which you can download in full from the link above, is packed with interesting statistics. (more…)
I first came across the term “Overton Window” in a piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books in July 2016.
He described it as “a term… meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment… [which] can be moved.”
Lanchester said that ideas can start far outside the political mainstream yet later come to seem acceptable. He cited Brexit as an example: considered eccentric in 1997, yet enjoying large-scale support in a referendum by 2016.
Lanchester’s article, by the way, like many LRB pieces, is improbably long: set aside a bit of time if you want actually to read it.
A recent piece at the splendid “Flip Chart Fairy Tales” blog (recommended: often a source of illuminating graphs, charts and views) entitled “Breaking the Overton Window“, also noted how opinions can change. The author argues that the Overton Window (“the range of policies that politicians deem to be politically acceptable”) has moved over recent decades towards libertarian, right-wing policies which do not obviously overlap with established political parties. By contrast, the views of voters have moved in the opposite direction, towards more authoritarian and left-wing ideas – likewise not corresponding clearly to existing parties. This tendency, he argues, a) is a move away from traditional “left-wing” and “right-wing” categorisations; and b) should lead politicians to shift towards those authoritative and left wing policies if they are not to leave voters alienated from politics.
What has this got to do with social media? (more…)
Here is the text of Chapter 5 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.
“In which Helen Gale gets into even more trouble.”
The Reichstag dome. Warning: bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”
BLOOD SUMMIT: CHAPTER 5
Helen watched Sir Leonard Lennox grow angry. It was a rare, but frightening sight. Even when the ambassador was calm, his rugged features tended to darken in response to obstacles or unreason. Now, the combination of brilliant white bandages and a choleric outburst made his face look black with rage.
‘They say what?‘
Basil Nutter grimaced, glanced around the conference table and said nothing. Decades of experience in the back rooms of embassies from Abidjan to Yerevan had left the wizened but career-challenged diplomat equipped with two convictions. The first was that the key to a contented life was to avoid drawing attention to yourself. The second was that efforts by governments to influence the media were at best pointless and in most cases counter-productive. Basil was arguably, therefore, ill-fitted to the job of embassy press officer. He seemed physically to have shrunk as the Summit loomed. This morning’s blast had left his brow, and his suit, more deeply creased than ever.
Helen had been thinking of the injured child in the street. She saw Basil’s plight and intervened.
‘Ambassador,’ she said. ‘You need a cigarette. Possibly two.’
‘First sensible idea I’ve heard all day.’ A lighter and a packet of Benson and Hedges were in the ambassador’s big hands in an instant. ‘And before you say anything, Jason, this is an emergency. Since the windows have been blown out by a terrorist bomb, we’re technically outside anyway.’
Jason Short said nothing, but looked at the overwhelmingly intact windows and pursed his lips.
The ambassador lit a cigarette, blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling, and turned to Basil. (more…)