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on 7 April 2008
Fans of Philip Kerr's original trilogy of Bernie Gunther books were delighted in 206 when after a gap of 16 years, a fourth volume `The One from the Other' hit the bookshops in July.

Barely 15 months on and there's a very welcome fifth book in the series. And while reading it, it becomes clear that there are plans for at least one more volume from `the thinking reader's thriller writer'

Ex-Berlin homicide detective and private eye Bernie Gunther finds himself in Buenos Aries, Argentina in 1950 (read `The One From The Other' to find out why), a time when Juan Peron's government offered a safe haven for Nazi war criminals. The action switches largely between Berlin in 1932 - and Bernie's last abandoned case as a police officer when the mutilated body of a spastic teenage girl is discovered - and Buenos Aires in 1950 where he is invited to investigate a case with striking similarities.

What appears to be a simple case turns out to be anything but; twist is piled upon twist, and Gunther unwraps layer after layer until the final shocking revelation is revealed.

Once again, this is peopled with real personalities - Juan and Evita Peron, Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Mengele etc. - and blends fiction with conjecture based upon historical fact. It includes a chilling portrait of the man who was third ranked in the SS at the end of World War II, General Hans Kammler; perhaps the most heinous SS officer never to be caught.

Bernie Gunther is a great creation, never afraid to poke his nose into things he's been warned to keep out of. He's brave, principled and wisecracking - one character remarks he has a 'smart mouth' - and that gets him into trouble. He's a throwback to the golden age of Hammett and Chandler.

This intelligent, gripping thriller is richly detailed and tightly plotted. It has a moving ending (I won't give it away) that cries out for the sequel that will inevitably follow. All in all, this is top stuff.

So why not five stars? I'm benchmarking this against the best of Philip Kerr and it's not quite up there with 'A Philosophical Investigation' and one or two others.

But unfortunately, I have to agree with a previous reviewer's comments; this novel contains a whole slew of typos. Who the heck is responsible for proof-reading these books, and can I please have his job?
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Nor public flame nor private dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire Chaos is restor'd,
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all." Alexander Pope

Bernie Gunther's flame is certainly a quiet one. He's a good detective, but a flawed man. The key though to Gunther's appeal is the fact that no one is more aware of his failings than Gunther himself. Philip Kerr does an excellent job evoking this self-reflection in his most recent Bernie Gunther detective story, "A Quiet Flame".

For those new to Kerr's Bernie Gunther stories, Gunther is a detective. He is German and during most of the series, set in the 1930s and 1940s we saw Gunther working as a detective in Berlin. He is virulently opposed to the Nazis to the point where many of his colleagues accuse him of being a communist. Yet, first and foremost Gunther wants to be a detective, he wants to solve cases and would like nothing better than to be left alone to do his job. However, he went along. Once the war came he found himself in the SS. He's not proud of his behavior and accepts the fact that he is guilty of `the crime of survival'. He says to himself, ruefully, that if he were truly a good man, he'd be dead because he would have stood up against the Nazis.

Now, it is 1950, and Bernie has fled Europe. He is wanted (wrongfully) for being a war criminal after having his identity stolen but he uses his new identity to escape to Argentina. Upon arrival he finds he has exchanged the madness and machinations of the Nazi regime for that of Juan and Eva Peron's. He is forced into taking on a murder mystery that has occurred within the German (Nazi) émigré community, a brutal murder that bears a stark resemblance to a brutal unsolved murder Gunther investigated in the 1930s in Berlin. The book progresses on two paths. The first path is Gunther's reflections back on the unsolved Berlin murder and the second involves his current investigation. The paths not being parallel finally merge and Gunther is left to deal with the startling consequences of his investigation.

Quiet Flame is an entertaining story and one that lives up to the high quality of Kerr's writing in his previous Gunther novels. His characterization of Gunther is first rate even if he never really fleshes out the characters of his secondary protagonists. Gunther is portrayed with a great deal of nuance. There is goodness about him but he is fully aware of how unclean his hands are. This nuanced look makes the more black-and-white portrayal of the Argentine and German bad guys seem somewhat superficial. That's not a major issue though as the excellent portrayal of Gunther and the book's pacing kept me turning the pages. It's easy to paint a decent, flawed man with nuance but pretty hard to avoid the broad strokes when dealing with unrepentant killers.

All-in-all this is a worthy addition to the Bernie Gunther series. L. Fleisig
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VINE VOICEon 28 July 2012
At the end of If the Dead Rise Not, Bernie Gunther was escaping to Argentina. In A Quiet Flame he has arrived, though not quite left Berlin behind. The story alternates between Germany in 1932 and Argentina in 1950. As with all Philip Kerr's work, the research has been formidable, the personal traits of Peron and Evita vouched for in an after note. But the downside is a plethora of authentic but small, irrelevant details (Augustin Magaldi came on Radio El Mundo singing Vagabundo. This had been a huge hit for him in the thirties) that stretches the book to more than 400 pages.

The reason for the dual locations is the similarity between an investigation Bernie undertook in Berlin and another he is pitched into in Buenos Aires. For the first half of the book these are virtually two separate stories, requiring the reader to reorientate and remember every thirty or so pages. The final unravelling depends heavily upon an improbable confession by a minor character and leads to even more unlikely melodrama.

Followers of Philip Kerr will find here all the author's characteristics - good and bad.
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on 1 February 2010
Absolutely Brilliant. I loved this book . great story. exciting location. and more character development. you can read this as a stand alone novel but the best way is as part of the series.You learn so muh more with each story and Bernie Gnther is becoming one of the most rounded detectives in fiction. One quibble he finds a babe every where, they fall for him and it doesn't work out ( no further spoilers) A love interest is all very well but it all seems to easy. Any way i am already to follow Bernie to Cuba.
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At the end of the fourth Bernie Gunther mystery, The One From the Other: A Bernie Gunther Mystery (Bernie Gunther Mystery 4), Bernie was headed for Argentina. The beginning of this novel sees him arriving in Buenos Aires in 1950. Admittedly, he could be a little confused about where he actually is, as it seems most of the German SS have set up a new life in South America and he is constantly running into old colleagues - and some of the most wanted men in the world.

When Bernie admits his real identity to Juan Peron, he is asked to investigate a murder, thought to be linked to a series of unsolved crimes in Berlin, 1932. There is also the whereabouts of a missing girl, whose father is a friend of the Perons. Of course, nothing is simple and, as we know from past cases, the client always lies... However, also as always, Bernie somehow stumbles upon the truth - and we follow his progress in the present and in flashbacks in pre-war Berlin. This is a novel which uses both fictional and real life characters to great effect, with Eva Peron, Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann putting in appearances. As well as old acquaintces, Buenos Aires shares something else in common with Germany, which is that people are apt to go missing. If Bernie isn't careful, he will add himself to that list, as he uncovers some shocking events that those in power will hide at any cost. As Colonel Montalban is keen on pointing out, "it is better to know everything than too much", but it always seems to be our hero's fate to know more than is good for him. Another excellent outing in a brilliant series, in which the author recreates the places, people and events he is writing about with an ease of authenticity which I am sure hides a great deal of research and work.
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on 24 February 2012
Bernie Gunther is a brilliant creation. In some ways he's just another hard boiled cop full of wisecracks and with an eye for the ladies- he could easily be cliched and predictable. However, Kerr is a masterly writer and the period detail in all the Gunther books make them especially effective. A Quiet Flame is one of the best in an already exemplary series. Alternating between Argentina in the 1950s and Berlin just as Hitler is coming to power Gunther has a chance to revisit an unsolved case despite being a fugitive himself alongside Eichmann and other notorious Nazis. This tension between Gunther in Argentina and out of his environment is counterpointed by the brilliant evocation of Berlin in 1932 with Hitlers brownshirt thugs and the dark underbelly of an impressive city with its anything goes backstreets and obligatory hoods and hoodlums.
Overlaying all this is the not completely familiar story of Peronist anti-semitism and a police state that gave the Nazis a run for their money.
Kerr is razor sharp on the wisecracks and the humour doesn't seem wrong in such a dark story based (as Kerr points out in the endnotes on a modicum of true stories).
Detectives in wartime is almost becoming a genre in its own right- Kerrs books are right up there with the likes of John Lawton (and his Frederick Troy novels) and I am looking forward to catching up with the next two novels in the series- Field Grey and Prague Fatale. Indeed reading Kerr and Lawton alternately gives a great perspective on
German/British detectives in war. Chuck in Laura Wilsons Ted Stratton and the party really gets started. But Kerr is infectious in his assured and quite brilliantly paced novel.
A Quiet Flame is flaming good!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 April 2010
Philip Kerr's "A Quiet Flame" is my second Bernie Gunther novel. Somewhat late to the game, I recently read, enjoyed, and reviewed "If The Dead Rise Not", giving it five stars. I'm an avid reader of WW1 and WW2 fiction and non-fiction, and had somehow missed Philip Kerr. I'm now on a mad rush to read all Kerr's backlist.

"Flame" is quite a novel. Kerr alternates both time and locale, Berlin in 1932 and Buenos Aires in 1950, telling a tale of policeman Bernie Gunther's hunt for a vicious murderer. Gunther, a cop's cop, has no fondness for the incoming Nazi regime. He wends his way thought the various political affiliations at "The Alex" to solve crimes.
He is subsequently "reassigned" to paper-pushing when the Nazis finally take power and purge the Berlin police department of any dissident voices.

Eighteen years and many lifetimes pass and Gunther finds himself on a freighter leaving Italy, heading for Argentina. His companions are former German war criminals passed along the "Rat line" from probable prosecution for war crimes in post-war Europe to safety in the Peronist-Argentina. A new future, along with a new name and identity, await Gunther in BA, where he hopes to obtain an Argentine passport (instead of the rather flimsy Red Cross passport) and return to Germany and live quietly under his alias, Carlos Hauser. However, BA is no more free of corruption and crime than was Berlin twenty years earlier. Gunther gets swept up in a police-investigation of murder, missing young women, and just who is a "bad Nazi" and who is a "really bad Nazi".

Gunther, who can wise-crack in German, Spanish, and Russian, soon finds that no one is who he says he is, and almost everybody he meets has at least one agenda, and often more than one. Of course, he meets, woos, and then loses a couple of beautiful women and meets past companions in new settings. Most of the story takes place in BA, with a few long flashbacks to Berlin.

Kerr's a very good writer. Gunther is seen as a flawed but essentially decent man. Not so most of the other characters.
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on 13 January 2009
Kerr's increasingly Chandler-esque Berlin detective Bernie Gunther makes his 5th appearance in 'A Quiet Flame'.

The plot has been well summarised by other reviewers so I won't repeat their synopses: I guessed about halfway through that Uki Goni's excellent 'The Real Odessa' must have been a primary historical source for the story. Kerr does credit Goni in an afterword and weaves an excellent plot and characters around this starting point, I think his most complete Gunther story yet. The settings and plot feel authentic and the characters are fully drawn: if you like a German post-war detective in the Chandler mode, complete with one-liners, Bernie fits the bill!

Unlike a lot of novels based on non-English history, Bernie being a thoroughly German character doesn't jar with the setting or plot, or indeed the direct Chandler references.

Doesn't have to be read in sequence with the other Gunther novels if you haven't read them before, but works particularly well if you have.

For me, the combination of a great plot, authentic settings and characters in a well-told story will bring me back for more. In this light I would bracket Kerr with Stephen Hunter's or James Lee Burke's books: if you like them you may well enjoy this and vice versa - I do!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 19 December 2012
This is the fifth book in Philip Kerr's terrific series featuring Bernie Gunther, a jaded and policeman in wartime Berlin who despises the Nazi regime. Kerr wrote the first three books in the series between 1989-91. These are collected in the book Berlin Noir ('March Violets', 'The Pale Criminal' and 'A German Requiem') (Penguin Crime/Mystery). He then took a 16 year break from the character before returning with The One From The Other: A Bernie Gunther Novel: A Bernie Gunther Mystery (Bernie Gunther Mystery 4). Since then he has added four more. The series jumps about in sequence and it almost doesn't matter where you start, but having said that, this book follows directly on from The One From The Other.

When the story opens, Gunther has just arrived in Argentina, on the run after the events of the previous novel (no spoilers are given). The chief of police asks his assistance investigating a case which involves a murdered girl, with another one missing. There appear to be links to an unsolved case he worked on in Germany in 1932. The story moves backwards and forwards in time as both cases unfold. Argentina is no paradise - the Perons are in power, former Nazis are everywhere and anti-Semitism is rife.

This is such a fantastic series, very Chandler-esque in style but incorporating lots of real life people and events, so as a reader you are never quite sure where the boundary between real and imagined events lies. Whilst it's not the best in the series - the plot gets a little over-complicated with a host of characters to keep straight in your head - it's still very, very good.
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A Quiet Flame is a good place to start with Philip Kerr's "Berlin Noir" novels. What a great read it os being suspenseful, full of historic detail, and also pleasingly literate and well-written.

The main story begins in Beunos Aires in 1950, where Bernie Gunther has managed to emigrate to, partly to get away from the devastation of his homeland and the personal history he is trying to get away from. Within a few weeks he is recruited by President Peron's secret police to investigate an unsolved murder which bears striking resemblances to two similar cases he encountered in Berlin in 1932.

The book alternates between these two time periods - a device I usually dislike in a novel as it can give a very disjointed flow to the book. However, Philip Kerr creates two equally interesting scenarios in Berlin and Buenos Aires and the links between the two cases are so strong that the device works well and I found no sense of disconnection between the two stories.

In 1930s Berlin we read of Bernie's arguments with colleagues who are slowly drifting one by on into the Nazi party. Bernie is a Social Democrat and loathes Hitler and all he stands for, but he encounters an atmosphere of inevitability about the Nazi climb to power. The cases he is investigating (which bear so much resemblance to the Buenos Aire's killing twenty years later), involve the ritualised murder of two young women of dubious morals - one of whom happens to be the disabled daughter of a Nazi Party member. When Gunther interviews the parents of the girl he finds that they are strangely unmoved about her death, partly because having a child with cerebral palsy was an embarrassment to a family that supported Hitler's policies on eugenics and social cleansing.

Back in Buenos Aires, Gunther encounters many members of the Nazi party, many of whom seem to think that South America is going to offer them a springboard on which to regroup and launch another attempt at launching the master-race. The author brings in real-life characters, Juan and Evita Peron, Adolf Eichmann and Joseph Mengele, the latter being particularly chilling encounters for Bernie for although they have been stripped of their power, their air of menace remains.

The book is full of twists and turns, intrigues and revelations, and is a wholly satisfying read. Bernie Gunther is a hard-bitten cop, but his character shines through the book, as he searches for justice for the memory of the dead girls of both countries. I shall definitely read the other novels in the Bernie Gunther series, with Field Grey already waiting on my Kindle.
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