A Quiet Flame opens in 1950. Falsely fingered a war criminal, Bernie Gunther has booked passage to Buenos Aires, lured, like the Nazis whose company he has always despised, by promises of a new life and a clean passport from the Perón government. But Bernie doesn't have the luxury of settling into his new home and lying low. He is soon pressured by the local police into taking on a case in which a girl has turned up dead, gruesomely mutilated, and another-the daughter of a wealthy German banker-has gone missing. Both crimes seem to connect to an unsolved case Bernie worked on back in Berlin in 1932. It's not so far-fetched that the cases might be linked: after all, the scum of the earth has been washing up on Argentine shores-state-licensed murderers and torturers-so why couldn't a serial killer be among them?
But Argentina, just like Germany, holds terrible secrets within its corrupt halls of power. When beautiful Anna Yagubsky seeks Gunther out, desperate for help, to find out what happened to her Jewish aunt and uncle who have disappeared, he is drawn into a horror story that rivals everything he has tried so hard to leave behind half a world away.
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
The boat was the SS Giovanni, which seemed only appropriate given the fact that at least three of its passengers, including myself, had been in the SS. It was a medium-sized boat with two funnels, a view of the sea, a well-stocked bar, and an Italian restaurant. This was fine if you liked Italian food, but after four weeks at sea at eight knots, all the way from Genoa, I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sad to get
off. Either I’m not much of a sailor or there was something else wrong with me other than the company I was keeping these days.
We steamed into the port of Buenos Aires along the gray River Plate, and this gave me and my two fellow travelers a chance to reflect upon the proud history of our invincible German navy. Somewhere at the bottom of the river, near Montevideo, lay the wreck of the Graf Spee, a pocket battleship that had been invincibly scuttled by its commander in December 1939, to prevent it from falling into the ...
Nazi Germany and Argentina under the Perons are places perhaps best visited from the safety of an armchair, but Kerr never stints on atmosphere and his books are a kind of immersion into place and time that can be hard to shake off. He's both an excellent novelist and gifted architect of mysteries and his dialogue is first-rate. As Colonel Montalban, Bernie's police boss says, "'To be a great detective one must also be a protagonist. A dynamic sort of character who makes things happen just by being himself. I think you are this kind of person, Gunther.'"
Montalban's right and readers are all the richer for it. (Reviewed by Joanne Collings).
Full Review (1254 words).
To Read or Not To Read in Series Order
When I was a teenager, my mother gave me some advice which I almost immediately ignored. We were both avid readers who preferred reading to talking and most of our limited conversation was about what we were reading.
She had enjoyed English novelist Norah Lofts's trilogy about the history of a house and the stories of the people who had lived in it over a century. "Make sure," she said," to start with the first book." But when I went to the library, it was out, so I started with the second, then went back to the first. Although I still enjoyed the books, reading the middle before the beginning and then jumping to the end gave me a kind of Alice in Wonderland sense of disjointedness...
If you liked A Quiet Flame, try these:
A conscience-plagued mobster turned government hitman struggles to find his moral compass amid rampant treachery and betrayal in 1936 Berlin.
Mario Conde, retired from the police force, now makes a living trading antique books. In a book, Conde discovers a newspaper article about a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950s, who disappeared mysteriously. Condes intuition sets him off on an investigation into the murder.
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