Year 3 / Book 33: A Quiet Flame

33) A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr

I’m slowly working my way through Philip Kerr’s wonderful Bernie Gunther novels, which combine a Chandler-esque wit with the perils and history of 1930s-40s (Nazi) Germany. As I wrote in a previous review, Kerr very sadly died earlier this year, which is all the more reason (as far as I’m concerned) to both celebrate his work, and to try and draw it out as long as possible. Prague Fatale and Field Grey are sat waiting amongst others.

This one is actually set in 1950s Argentina, and Gunther finds himself (as ever) in the midst of a) some crimes that need solving and b) Nazis you might be familiar with. Indeed, the novel starts with him on the boat over to Argentina with a certain Adolf Eichmann. Gunther soon becomes engaged in a missing person’s case which bears similarity to one of his earlier cases back in early 30s Germany. This gives Kerr the opportunity to flash back to the time when the National Socialists were just coming to power, woven in and out of the 1950s Argentina tale.

It’s great stuff all round: there’s love interest, historical detail, car chases, narrow escapes and lashings of dark and cynical humour. Gunther remains one of the most entertaining protagonists around, with a fabulous array of one-liners and world-weary barbs. But what Kerr is so clever at is basing the stories and plots in enough reality (the notes at the end are, as ever, quite revealing) to make you both believe them and also to be shocked again at what took place. And there is plenty to shock here, including concentration camps and paedophilia.

There is one enormously clunky plot device (someone Bernie has been playing chess with plays a key role all of a sudden; indeed, it’s so clunky that Bernie himself seems to comment on it), and of course it feels unlikely that one man could have so swiftly run into Eva Perón and Adolf Eichmann – but I didn’t care a jot. It’s great stuff, and up there with the best of the Gunther novels that I’ve read so far.

Score: 8/10

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