I had read and enjoyed Phillip Kerr’s work before. Thrillers like Esau and The Second Angel among my favorites. For some reason, I had avoided his Bernie Gunther series, probably because I am often disappointed when an author excels in one genre, but disappoints in another. A Quiet Flame proves me wrong, at least as far as Philip Kerr is concerned. This is an excellent noir mystery.
Bernie Gunther is a well fleshed-out and complicated character. The events of A Quiet Flame span Berlin in the time of Hitler’s rise to power and 1950 Argentina, with a thread connecting both timelines. Kerr does a magnificent job of bringing both pre-war Germany and post-war Argentina to life, but particularly Argentina. I was completely immersed in the setting which let the mystery unfold naturally. Gunther wrestles in both timelines with his own conscience and guilt all while doggedly pursuing answers. The viciousness of the Nazis and those who conspire with them both during their rise to power and in their exile after the war is laid out with brutal frankness through the eyes of a man who recognizes their evil but also recognizes his own will to survive.
There is a certain beautiful brutality in the Kerr’s descriptions. There is also a recognition of the impossibility of true justice for those who commit such atrocities. The depiction of the coverups involved after the fact reflect more an attempt to evade justice than any sense of remorse. The depiction of the Peron government also shows a willingness to look the other way and in many ways, act as despicably as the Nazis in pursuit of political power.
The crimes Gunther investigates both in 1932 Berlin and 1950 Buenos Aires are interesting in their own right, but it is the settings and the characters around these crimes that make this a truly wonderful book. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this book through Goodreads. Highly recommended.