'Sometimes the profound silence of that room scared me because it seemed to echo something silent inside myself.' So says the hero of himself in one of those rare, stand-alone confessional moments in this novel, the fifth in the series of Bernie Gunther Nazi detective thrillers. And thrill it does, at least when Kerr isn't trying to quench the quiet flame with his deadpan Chandlerisms about women's bodily curves concealing some pretty mucky misogyny much of the time. The humour falls flatter than a dead pancake. In another sense, it also acts as a shock-absorber designed to set off in high relief some of the truly barbaric atrocities of Argentina's gang of Péronist sponsored Nazi war criminals. Revelations or allegations? Maybe it's a prerogative of the novelist to keep the two mixing and merging ambiguously. Kerr is very good at weaving their criminal psychopathy into the fabric of the country's political machinery. Random torture scenes are scattered across the chapters with hefty doses of sadistic gratification thrown into the mix. The 'something silent' inside Gunther is his, and our, only bolt-hole route away from the evil chicanery of aging German bootboys. Mengele and Eichmann are there to keep the black blood flowing and they forge plausible links across the 20-year flashback sequences to early thirties Berlin and the rise of the Dark Despot. Gunther is there risking life and limb in both time-zones with his astute chess player instincts, but Kerr constantly and cleverly takes the shine off his bravado with his often uncanny escapes from death. The reader is dragged feet first into some of the most obscure niches of Latin American post-war history, the bits that have watchtowers and barbed-wire fences wrapped around in remote border territory. The women in the novel, especially Anna, never quite make it into the realms of desirability or plausibility. You can understand why Evita became a musical after reading this, but elsewhere in these grim pages there is precious little to sing about.
You know what you are getting with Bernie; a Don Quixote for the mid 20th century. You also know what you are getting with a Philip Kerr book; excellent writing, good research and enough name dropping to make visits to Google a regular occurrence. "A Quiet Flame" is no different. I do not know enough about post war Argentina, apart from its open door policy to ex Nazi's fleeing justice, to comment on the way the story develops (although from the number of people who disappeared during the latter half of the 20th century, it would not come as to much of a shock of it was true). The story uses a split time frame between 1930's Germany and 1950's Argentina, with Bernie fighting the good fight against German Nazi's and Argentinian facists. The time changes are seamless and the tension never falters, right up to the final page. Another triumph for Philip Kerr.
Bernie Gunther's finest outing so far...in my humble opinion. Mr Kerr's previous Bernie Gunther thriller was a real slow-burner of a book... but this one! How he manages to cram in so much story into one book is utterly amazing. I won't blab on about plot, etc., as that's not my place - all I will say is, this is one of those books you don't want to end. Philip Kerr has this unerring knack of putting in just enough 'fact' to have you Googling - and then you find that he wasn't making it up (and there are some truly gruesome facts)
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.
You're going to end up reading all of these if you read one - meditations on evil and history and fast-paced violent mysteries, really well-written and researched, with amusing hints of German slang and proverbs from time to time. A potent mix, though perhaps the later ones are too long and Bernie Gunther in the 1950s isn't as interesting.
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.
As familiarity is said to breed contempt, it is perhaps not surprising that I found 'A Quiet Flame' less satisfactory than Bernie Gunther's four previous outings. It is by no means a bad novel, but having set the bar so high, it was inevitable that at some point Kerr and Bernie would suffer a dip in form.
A welcome shift in location, this time to Argentina, is spoiled by alternating chapters back in Berlin, before the war, in 1932. As another reviewer here has stated, this has the unfortunate side-effect of showing how little Bernie has changed, even with the tumultuous life he has led. My other complaints are probably borne from having read five Bernie Gunther novels in under a year; it's starting to feel a bit formulaic. Bernie delivers some smart wise-cracks, and is consumed by an ill-disguised hatred of the Nazi's, but there isn't much more than that.
Having said all that, Kerr's ability to write plausible and intriguing crime fiction between the cracks of history is second-to-none. The change to Argentina and Peron is welcome, and with this being a less trodden land for fiction than Nazi Germany, the novel's revelations are all the more shocking. You could argue that Bernie is remarkably well-connected for somebody who should have been executed many times over, but I personally enjoy his brushes with history's Most Wanted.
Although 'A Quiet Flame' is not Kerr's best novel, it still contains much to admire. Most authors would kill to write descriptive prose like Kerr, and as ever his dialogue is razor sharp. So despite my reservations, this is still an enjoyable read. I just hope Kerr never falls into the trap of writing 'Bernie by Numbers'!
I like Philip Kerr's novels featuring his German cop Bernie Gunther but I wish he would wean himself off the excruciating Raymond Chandler pastiche style which can be amusing when it works but more often than not is feeble and you wonder why the editor didn't just expunge it. On the other hand, his characterization is strong, he covers historical events around the rise and fall of Nazism convincingly and he comes up with twisting plots that I generally can't follow but enjoy getting lost in.
Most of "A Quiet Flame" takes place in Argentina in 1950 and concerns Nazis who fled there where they were given a warm welcome but there are plenty of gritty flashbacks to pre-war Berlin to enjoy. There are cameo appearances by Juan and Eva Peron, Adolph Eichmann and Josef Mengele plus the usual Nazis hiding in the jungle and dreaming of the good old days of the Third Reich. His portrayal of Buenos Aires and the character of Argentineans in general leave a lot to be desired. However, I look forward to finding out what happened to Gunther after his South American ride.
I would like to point out one factual error in Kerr's "Author's Note" in case he or the publisher reads this. Mengele was not "probably drowned in São Paulo" as he states but "definitely drowned" in a in a small resort called Bertioga in São Paulo state about 100 kilometers from the state capital.
It's a while since I read any Bernie Gunther, and I'd forgotten - or is this new? - the sub-sub-Chandler hard-boiled 'wit'. When it's good, it's not very good; when it's bad, it's awful.
That off my chest, this is another excellent novel from Philip Kerr. The plot concerns an unsolved murder in pre-war Berlin, linked by identical MO with a new case in 1950 Buenos Aires.
For complicated reasons, Bernie finds himself a refugee, along with Adolf Eichmann et al., in Péroniste Argentina, but the scenes in flashback to pre-war Germany are the best, presenting a heartbreaking portrait of a society in decadent meltdown, as well as serving as a useful backstory for the development of our hero.
I found this book by turns fascinating and exciting, and I thoroughly commend it.
These novels, and other detective stories set during Ww11 and after, are introducing me to historical facts I am ashamed to say I knew nothing about. The whodunnits are cracking stories in themselves, with the added bonus of learning some history. This includes attitudes to women, ethnic minorities etc that we find repugnant today, but it's another part of understanding history.