A Quiet Flame

Written by Philip Kerr
Review by Ken Kreckel

Framed as a war criminal, ex-SS officer Bernie Gunther is forced to flee to Argentina with the likes of Adolph Eichmann for company. He finds that his reputation gained before the war as a Berlin police detective has preceded him. Bernie is instantly drafted into Peron’s secret police with a mission to find a missing girl. The clues lead him to link the disappearance with a murdered girl in 1932, a case he nearly solved before his investigation was terminated by the rise of Hitler. Before long he finds evidence that the old nightmares of his Nazi days have been reborn in the new world. Linking up with a beautiful, young Jewess, he launches an investigation that puts him in deadly conflict with both the Peron regime and the Nazi war criminals that the president so warmly embraced.

Fifth in a series, this entry loses nothing of the grit and realism that made its predecessors so entertaining and satisfying. There is still the wisecracking, sardonic Bernie, fighting for what is right despite the many ambiguities forced upon him. The sharply drawn sinister foes are here, too, only this time a plethora of them, from a veritable who’s-who of escaped Nazi war criminals to the Perons themselves, including the fabulous Evita.

This is a thinking man’s sort of fiction, one that transcends its noir genre. The big questions—life and death, guilt or innocence—are handled in an almost philosophical way. Punishment and justice are especially elusive and ambiguous, especially when applied to Bernie himself, who, despite all his efforts to the contrary, finds himself indelibly tainted by the very bacillus he fights against.

Philip Kerr has crafted a series of books that are at once entertaining, informative, and vaguely disturbing. This latest offering is perhaps the best of all, and it also stands as a remarkable read on its own. Highly recommended.