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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Quiet Flame

Philip Kerr

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To purchase A Quiet Flame

Title: A Quiet Flame
Author: Philip Kerr
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 386 pages
Availability: A Quiet Flame - US
A Quiet Flame - UK
A Quiet Flame - Canada
Une douce flamme - France
Das letzte Experiment - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : decent thriller, but tries too hard

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A 15/3/2009 Sarah Weinman
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/4/2009 Marilyn Stasio
The Scotsman . 8/3/2008 Allan Massie
The Telegraph . 16/3/2008 Susanna Yager
The Telegraph . 29/3/2008 Jake Kerridge
The Times . 22/3/2008 Peter Millar

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he series' crowning achievement to date, and, quite possibly, the book Kerr has been working toward for two decades." - Sarah Weinman, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Bernie builds up contempt for government mendacity, expressing his reckless views in the wisecracking idiom of the hard-boiled detective, rather than the suave tones of the undercover agent the Peronists would like him to be. But while his attitude is fashionably cynical, he cares too much about the future of civilized societies to pass himself off as a pessimist." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The novel is enjoyable enough, good-quality airport fiction. But that's all it is, which is sad, because the early Bernie Gunther novels were so much more than that." - Allan Massie, The Scotsman

  • "The story is entertaining, but not always tidily put together, and Bernie's attempts at light-hearted quips lack the Candleresque touch." - Susanna Yager, The Telegraph

  • "It is a bleak tale, but a funny and thrilling one; at times I wondered if I should be enjoying a novel about genocide and paedophilia quite so much. In Bernie Gunther, Kerr has created a plum example of that irresistible folk hero, the detective who is the only honourable man in a wicked world." - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "Despite, or perhaps because of, the celebrity cast, he makes this ambitious ripping yarn seem historically plausible, even if taking just a few too many pains to make sure we realise that Gunther is a good guy all along." - Peter Millar, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Quiet Flame begins with Bernie Gunther -- familiar from the excellent Berlin Noir-trilogy, as well as The One from the Other -- arriving in Argentina in 1950, smuggled out (along with Adolf Eichmann) by the Nazi-resettlement service, ODESSA. His cover is that he is a doctor, but he spills the beans early on, admitting to Juan Perón (whom he meets shortly after his arrival) that he was, in fact, a cop and detective. His reputation precedes him, and he is immediately lured to work for the secret police. He's actually not that keen on it, but he has thyroid cancer, and Eva Perón's American doctor may be able to help so they make him an offer he can't refuse.
       The case they say they want him to investigate bears similarities to one he investigated back in the early 1930s, just as the Nazis were coming to power -- and one he couldn't solve because of Nazi interference; the novel features many flashbacks to that time and that case. Conveniently, the Argentineans have managed to get Gunther's old police files; Argentinean ties to all things Nazi are repeatedly revealed as very, very cozy. The case involves a young teenage girl who was killed and had her privates cut out, though what they're concerned about is another girl of about the same age, the daughter of a prominent German banker, who has disappeared and who, they fear (or say the fear), may be in the clutches of the same madman.
       Gunther is being led along on several goose chases of sorts, as many, many things aren't quite what they seem to be. On the one hand he's encouraged to investigate, on the other he's told to keep his nose out other things -- but he finds it hard to keep things separate.
       He falls for a woman he meets while on the case, Anna. Some of her Jewish relatives disappeared here in Argentina, and she asks him to look into that, which he does -- finding himself uncovering some particularly ugly secrets about his new homeland, secrets which it is a very bad idea to be aware of. Naturally, there's a bit of overlap with the case he's meant to be solving, finding the missing girl.
       "In your own haphazard way, you're a hell of a detective, Gunther," he is praised near the end. Indeed, he's far too good for his own good: he ties all the knots of all the cases together, and there's almost nothing good that comes of it. Yes, he finds the girl, but even that is hardly a blessing, as it's not so much her welfare everyone was concerned about. And some of what he uncovers is very, very ugly indeed.
       As he already notes when he was going around talking to the former Nazis, early in the investigation:

More commonly, I went away from their homes wondering what kind of country I was in that would give sanctuary to beasts like these. Of course, I already knew, only too well, what kind of country had produced them.
       He finds out exactly what kind of a country Argentina is; needless to say, it does not restore his faith in mankind. And redeeming love ? Well, Bernie hasn't ever been too lucky in that department either .....
       Gunther's investigations, both in 1930s Germany and 1950s Argentina, make for a decent procedural, but the way he is used as a pawn in Argentina makes for a less satisfying case. Kerr also heaps it on real thick with the prominent actors, from the German scenes with the powerful Nazi who apparently has the clap to the Peróns and several more big-name Nazis hiding out in Argentina. It's too bad: he's much better with the everyday stuff.
       A Quiet Flame is a perfectly fine read, but not a really good one. Kerr tries too hard throughout, and isn't nearly consistently successful, especially with the forced quips and banter. Even the better ones feel a bit strained:
     "I can keep my mouth shut," I said.
     "Everyone can keep their mouths shut," Skorzeny said. "The trick is to do it and stay alive at the same time."
       Like Bernie, Kerr seems a bit out of his element and comfort zone in Argentina. He doesn't help himself with his grand ambitions, either -- the Peróns are involved, and this is a novel about immense amounts of money and very horrible deeds.
       It's no surprise that at the novel's end Gunther is on his way out of there, with Kerr presumably just as glad to leave Argentina behind him as readers looking forward to future Gunther-adventures are.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 June 2009

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A Quiet Flame: Reviews: Philip Kerr: Other books by Philip Kerr under review: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       Prolific British author Philip Kerr (1956-2018) is best known for his Bernie Gunther-series.

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