Review: A Quiet Flame – Philip Kerr

5 of 5 stars

My version: Paperback
Historical Fiction WWII, post war

Argentina, 1950.

Bernie Gunther arrives in Buenos Aires only to be caught up in the hunt for a killer. A young girl has been murdered in circumstances which strongly resemble those of Bernie’s final case as a Berlin homicide detective, a case he didn’t solve.

The local chief of police is convinced that the killer is to be found among the several thousand ex-Nazis who have come to Argentina since 1945. So who better than Bernie Gunther to help track him down?

Philip Kerr doesn’t make it easy on the reader. And more power to him for that! What I mean is, I’m reading them in the order of publishing, but from the last two I’ve read, and what I’ve seen elsewhere, he has a habit of jumping around with his character Bernie Gunther. During and after the war. So there isn’t a chronological progression through the series, I mean.

If anyone can see the lighter side of escaping Nazis fleeing Europe along with Adolf Eichmann after defeat in World War II, it’s our good old boy, Bernie Gunther. Though ‘lighter’ is perhaps wrong, darker, more appropriately. His attempts at humour are always of the (often literally) gallows kind, and invariably lead to trouble. For him. Bernie has had to escape Europe, not because of anything he did, in the War Crime way, like those he’s fleeing with, but more because his name appers on some of the ‘wrong’ kinds of lists. If you’ve read his story so far, you’ll know that in trying to keep out of trouble and away from the troublemakers, he inadvertently always found himself in trouble with the ‘wrong’ people. Though they were the ‘wrong’ people for him back then and are the ‘wrong’ people for the Allies hunting them now.

This is a finely wrought story and an involving tale of the scramble for South America at the end of the War. Both sides, Argentina and the Nazis seem to think they’re the ones who know what’s going on, both are dependent on each other, in a way. By getting involved with a hospital pass of a case, it allows Bernie to take us on a tour of the various circumstances the various Nazis found themselves in in Argentina. If you wanted to look at it in this way; you could say that Eichmann lucked out, because he was more ‘honest’ than the others. He did his job and didn’t pocket the cash and backhanders for it. Or he was too stupid to do what they others did. Clearly, they knew that the Third Reich wouldn’t last and pretty much made sure they’d be ok after it, from the start. As I’ve recently read the story of Israeli capture of Eichmann, it had extra relevance for me. Philip Kerr really does know his stuff. Not just what did and what may have happened, but also how to weave it into a superb, entertaining – if you’re entertained by this sort of thing – period thriller. He can do very little wrong in my, or his, book(s).

SPEESH READS FACT DEPT: Philip Kerr can’t be a real writer of Historical Fiction though. I mean, he’s surely been thrown out of that exclusive club for not having any ‘wolfish grins’ anywhere, at any point, in his books. The ones I’ve read so far anyway.

You can buy A Quiet Flame at

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