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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I Was Jack Mortimer

Alexander Lernet-Holenia

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To purchase I Was Jack Mortimer

Title: I Was Jack Mortimer
Author: Alexander Lernet-Holenia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1933 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 203 pages
Original in: German
Availability: I Was Jack Mortimer - US
I Was Jack Mortimer - UK
I Was Jack Mortimer - Canada
I Was Jack Mortimer - India
J'étais Jack Mortimer - France
Ich war Jack Mortimer - Deutschland
Ero Jack Mortimer - Italia
  • German title: Ich war Jack Mortimer
  • Translated by Ignat Avsey
  • Ich war Jack Mortimer was made into a film in 1936, directed by Carl Froelich and starring Anton Walbrook, and again -- as Stolen Identity -- in 1953, directed by Gunther von Fritsch and starring Donald Buka

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Our Assessment:

B : decent suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/11/2013 Laura Wilson
Irish Times A 9/11/2013 Eileen Battersby
The Times . 14/9/2013 Kate Saunders

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although this isn't, as transator Ignat Avsey claims, "the most magnificent thriller ever written", it is certainly a fascinating snapshot of Vienna between the wars, pacey and entertaining." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "I Was Jack Mortimer reads as if it was written yesterday. Very few novels published in recent years match its daunting panache. The fast-moving, cleverly convoluted plot is brilliantly served by the sustained irony of Ignat Avsey’s witty translation. (...) The sequence in the hotel room is possibly the highlight of a terrific book, one to read and then urge everyone else to follow suit." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Was Jack Mortimer only covers a few days, but in that time Ferdinand Sponer experiences considerably more than he could have ever bargained for. Sponer is a taxi driver in 1930s Vienna, and the novel begins with him becoming entranced by a fare -- so much so that he basically stalks her. Marisabelle von Raschitz is of a different social class and certainly not too excited about the attention she suddenly receives from this cabbie, but Sponer can't help himself. And this despite the fact that he has a longtime girlfriend, the devoted Marie Fiala.
       But it's another fare that turns Sponer's life upside down -- Jack Mortimer. Mortimer gets in Sponer's taxi at the train station, and asks to be taken to the Hotel Bristol (failing to specify whether he wants the Old or the New one); it's all downhill from there. Sponer's judgment isn't the best, and in his panic -- he has good reason to panic -- he takes some unfortunate steps (though admittedly even as he tries to do the right thing early on he is stymied by circumstances around him). Eventually he decides his best bet is to check into the Bristol as Jack Mortimer and play the role for a night, after which he thinks he can slip back into his old life, with no one the wiser.
       It doesn't work out that way, of course, as Mortimer also becomes: "the demon in Sponer's head". It turns out Mortimer comes with more baggage than just his suitcase, and no sooner has Sponer checked in than someone wants to arrange a meeting with the person they believe to be Mortimer -- and they won't take no for an answer. Mortimer's own backstory is eventually revealed, and it puts Sponer in what looks like a hopeless position. He turns to faithful Marie for help, and she is willing to do anything for him, but by that time the police are already circling and Sponer can feel the noose tightening.
       Things work out, in a way -- yet even when they do Sponer has to hear:

Yes. You’re now free, you say ! You’re no longer what you were !
       Which, as it turns out, isn't what at least one person wants from him. But, by the end, everything is back in its proper place: justice has been served, and the social order restored.
       I Was Jack Mortimer gets a bit carried away in the streets of Vienna, with rather too much exposition of drives and chases -- the likes of:
Sponer hurried down Burggasse alongside the rumbling and clanking carts, then turned right onto Lastenstrasse, which was equally busy. Only at Karlsplatz did he turn off, and the clatter and rattle died away in the distance.
       From Sponer's stalking to his desperate attempts to unload Mortimer to the chases and confrontations with the police and Mortimer's past catching up with him, there is some decent excitement here. It's quite a well-paced thriller -- over-stretched on occasion in the streets of Vienna, and with some inadvertent comic moments to (such as the scene where: "without any hesitation he socked them over the head with his rubber truncheon"), but quite enjoyable.
       Both the initial disaster and the way things neatly work out are perhaps all a bit too neat, but it's amusing to see how Sponer flails about and things just move ahead regardless of what he does. The social class conflict element is a bit odd (and that resolution also a bit much for the story to handle), but it's also an amusing side-story.
       Overall, a fine, agreeable little thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 August 2013

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I Was Jack Mortimer: Reviews: Ich war Jack Mortimer - the films: Alexander Lernet-Holenia: Other books by Alexander Lernet-Holenia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Alexander Lernet-Holenia lived 1897 to 1976.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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