Alexander Lernet-Holenia


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Alexander Lernet-Holenia was a multi-award winning lyrical poet, protégé of Rainer Maria Rilke, and praised by Stefan Zweig as the "most noble of our dramatic poets (who also has a great sense for the odd)". He was a prolific and popular screenplay writer of social comedy, farce and melodrama, and even succeeded in getting the first edition of his 1941 novel The Blue Hour banned by the Nazis for its hints at politival opposition.

But rumour has it that his mother complained he only ever wrote "things one can't read. He should really get on with it and write a crime novel."

Lernet-Holenia seems to have taken her advice, and in 1933 produced his classic fast-paced detective thriller I Was Jack Mortimer. Its richly detailed, visual style was strongly influenced by cinema - by film noir, in particular, with its troubled protagonist, gemme fatale and mysterious murder - which is why his vidid portrait of 1930s Vienna would make such a great fit for later film adaptions in 1935 and 1952.

However, when we look beyond the breakneck pace of the film-noir plot, I Was Jack Mortimer is a book with roots in Lernet-Holenia's experience as a lieutenant in the First World War and perfectly distils the concerns of the timer: the social and interellectual upheaval of early 20th-century Austria, a rapidly changing Vienna torn between an aristocratic past and an uncertain future, and broader existential concerns about identity and crime in the modern world.