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A Quiet Flame: A Bernie Gunther Novel Paperback – February 23, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. At the start of Kerr's stellar fifth Bernie Gunther novel (after The One from the Other), the former Berlin homicide detective seeks exile in Argentina in 1950, along with others connected to the Nazi past (one of his fellow ship passengers is Adolf Eichmann). A few weeks after Gunther arrives in Buenos Aires, a local policeman, Colonel Montalbán, asks his help in solving the savage murder of 15-year-old Grete Wohlauf. Montalbán has noticed similarities between this crime and two unsolved murders Gunther investigated in 1932 Germany. Another teenage girl's disappearance heightens the urgency of the inquiry. In exchange for free medical treatment for his just diagnosed thyroid cancer, Gunther agrees to subtly grill members of the large German community. A secret he stumbles on soon places his life in jeopardy. Kerr, who's demonstrated his versatility with high-quality entries in other genres, cleverly and plausibly grafts history onto a fast-paced thriller plot. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
As with the previous books, the ambiance is set by the corrupt, brutal, ruthless and ideologically-driven detritus of WW-II era Germany in the form of former Nazi Party functionaries, SS, security apparatus operatives and their victims. Gunther, is now fleeing Allied "justice" (the result of a frame-up). He arrives in Peronist Argentina, itself a microcosm of Nazism in the post-war period in the company of Eichmann and another former Nazi. The justice Gunther is avoiding is a cynical and opportunist type, a form of self-service best embodied in the so-called, "Operation Paperclip", a CIA sponsored program which spirited numerous Nazi war criminals to safety.
After being recruited by an urbane Argentine Secret Police colonel, Gunther encounters the usual byzantine twists-and-turns in his investigation of a brutal child murder and a disappearance, observing mordantly on all aspects of human behavior at every opportunity. His state of continued high dudgeon, inexhaustible supply of snappy repartee, sang froid and paladin spirit continue from previous books. Interestingly, Gunther has shed his tone of moral relativism and is now more stridently anti-Nazi and less equivocally accommodating than in previous adventures.
As is often the case with historical fiction, it is hard to separate factual matters from the author's imagination. This remains true in the present book. The various Nazis (the entire rogue's gallery of war criminals appears herein) use an abundance of invented dialogue, but their imagined thoughts seem quite congruent with reports of their actual behavior (e.g., the banal, bureaucratic temperament of the historical Eichmann meshes nicely with his fictional counterpart in this book). The romantic subplot is a throw-away, as has been the case with the previous Gunther novels.
The main plot concerns the doings of ex-Nazis in Argentina, which appears complicit in their schemes. The proto-fascist Peron government was enamored of the Nazis. It has been widely reported that between 5,000-8,000 war criminals found refuge there, usually with the aid of the US government, sometimes the Red Cross, the Vatican, sympathetic South American regimes and a "ratline" escape network. They found an especially warm welcome and refuge in Argentina (Paraguay, too).
Juan Peron was no friend of the Jews, an issue Gunther immediately confronts. His investigation of "Directive 11" (a secret edict signed into being by the Peron government in 1938 which served to stop Jews from coming to Argentina and also allowed for their repatriation to Germany, knowing their fate) is the crux of the book.
Of course, the US and Cuba did the same thing as Peronist Argentina when the hapless passengers on the "St Louis" were returned to be killed in Germany. So did many other countries. To cite but one other instance, Switzerland was the motive force behind the "J" designation on passports and rejected virtually all refugees, requiring financial "donations" from resident Swiss Jews to support the few allowed entry. Argentina, however, seems to have been near the vanguard of rejection, as anti-Jewish prejudices received official sanction there in Directive 11. It should be noted that the existence of Directive 11 has never been confirmed by the Argentine government, either then or now. Plenty of circumstantial evidence exists in support of the idea that this edict was signed and enforced. Some speculate on the existence of a "Directive 12", one which paralleled the "Final Solution". So does Bernie Gunther.
The book has been well received by critics (see WSJ, March 17, 2009, for example). As I've written before, the plots are more compelling than Furst's, the dialogue is worthy of Chandler, the history is accurate and the use of historical fiction to create the dialogue is convincing. The book meshes nicely with the previous entries in the series and should be read as part of the whole. On the other hand, it can be read and enjoyed independently.
In summary, I thought this book was interesting, well-written and thoroughly engrossing. Of all the current noir writers, I find Kerr the most compelling. I highly recommend this book.
His protagonist Bernie Gunter is a totally believable portrait of a likeable, decent, hard hitting character with a long past.
Kerrs books are an in depth three dimensional study of a decent man in a very indecent world.
A flawed, embittered, wise cracking hard drinking hard smoking and gritty character who has taken some of the harder edges of life on the chin and still stands firm for his beliefs.
Read These Books, they will take you to a and time place described in an authentic tactile style that leaves you wanting more.
This is Noir at it's very best ... No This is not just Noir, this is literature.
In Buenos Aires he begins to start his new life when local cop Colonel Montalban asks him to investigate the brutal murder of teenage Grete Wohlauf. The police officer points out to the German expatriate that the current homicide shares much in common with a cold case Gunther failed to solve in 1932 Germany. Gunther takes the cross Atlantic connection seriously even though the two homicides he investigated occurred almost two decades apart as much of the scum of German have come to reside in Peron's paradise. When another teen goes missing, Gunther agrees to slyly question his fellow expatriates in exchange for medical treatment for thyroid cancer. Meanwhile Anna Yagubsky begs Gunther to find out what happened to her missing Jewish aunt and uncle.
This is a superb post WWII investigative thriller that contains an ethical lead character who is assumed to be an amoral racist due to guilt by association; as everyone believes war criminal fled to Argentina. Thus fans receive a unique intriguing look at the Nazi haven under Peron's rule. The whodunit is well written while the missing persons' case adds to the sense of being in Buenos Aires in 1950 as Phillip Kerr continues to explore the Nazis this time after their defeat (see The Berlin Noir trilogy).
Rich in settings and characterizations, Kerr's work continues to uniquely delve into the world of war-era Nazis in a fascinating and captivating way. In this installment, the post-war accommodation of ex-Nazis in South America is examined in all its brutal glory. Bernie Gunther is a compelling protagonist, a man with a strong moral code who finds himself immersed in a world of immorality beyond his own control, and must depend on his own skills and toughness to survive.
I strongly recommend this 5-star work. I'm also looking forward to the next Gunther novel, "If the Dead Rise Not", in which (according to the Amazon UK site) Gunther's back in 1934 Germany. At the end of "Flame", I was hard-pressed to imagine how Gunther was going to keep moving forward chronologically. At least for the moment, it seems he's not.