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A Quiet Flame ()

"All Germans carry an image of Adolf Hitler inside them," I said. "Even the ones like me, who hated Hitler and everything he stood for. This face with its tousled hair and postage-stamp mustache haunts us all now and forevermore and, like a quiet flame that can never be extinguished, burns itself into our souls. The Nazis used to talk of a thousand-year empire. But sometimes I think that because of what we did, the name of Germany and Germans will live in infamy for a thousand years."
-Bernie Gunther

WSJ: How did Directive 11 come about and what was its intention?

Mr. Kerr: Argentina had one of the largest populations of Jews in the world. Sometimes that is a precursor for anti-Semitism, as it was in Poland and Russia. You could argue the same was true there. The junta that took power in the 1930s was very impressed with Nazism and decided that despite the large and productive Jewish population, they didn't want any more. They created a specific directive forbidding anymore Jews to come to Argentina. It's fair to say that similar decisions must also have been made by other governments around the world that refused to take Jewish refugees. But Argentina was the only country that actively repatriated illegal Jewish immigrants. And when they were asked by the German government what to do with Argentine citizens who were Jewish, the Argentines said, do what you want with them. That's what encouraged me to take a leap into the "what if." What if there had been a Directive 12 that created an Argentine concentration camp?
    -INTERVIEW: Exploring Argentina's Anti-Semitic Past: Philip Kerr's latest novel, "A Quiet Flame," examines Directive 11, a secret order issued in 1938 that barred Jews from entering Argentina (JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG, 3/17/09, WSJ)

Don't worry if, when you start this book, you find yourself liking the Nazi refugee Dr. Carlos Hausner more than you think you ought. It's really our old friend Bernie Gunther, star of the earlier genre-defining series of books by Philip Kerr. Back in the day, Mr. Kerr, who set his books in Nazi Germany, and Martin Cruz Smith, who set the Arkady Renko investigations in the USSR, turned up the torque on the hard-boiled private eye/police procedural by adding oppressive totalitarian regimes to the traditional forces arrayed against lone wolf investigators. With the fall of the USSR, Mr. Smith has sent Renko to Cuba and used the violent oligarchs of the new Russia in order to keep the pressure cooking. In this latest novel, Mr. Kerr sends Bernie Gunther to Peronist Argentina in 1950, a new but familiar sort of regime for his truth seeking to run afoul of.

The conceit of the story is that the head of Juan Peron's secret police idolized Gunther while studying in 30's Germany and enlists him to help solve some killings/disappearances that echo ones Bernie was never able to solve back in those days. The story proceeds to flash back to the earlier crimes and draw out parallels between the Third Reich and Peron's fascist imitation, which is, not coincidentally, helping Nazi war criminals, like Adolf Eichmann, escape Anglo-American justice. When the trail leads to not only Peron's taste for young girls and an obvious connection to Nazi history but to an Argentine attempt to replicate the Nuremberg laws and maybe even the Holocaust, Bernie is in as much danger as he ever was in Hitler's Germany.

Personally, I found the bifurcation of the story distracting. But one can understand Mr. Kerr's desire to return Gunther to his old German stomping grounds. And the truth that Mr. Kerr recovers, about Argentina's anti-Semitic Directive 11 is shocking enough that he probably needn't invent a Directive 12. But the return of Bernie Gunther is so welcome let's not make the ideal the enemy of the very, very good.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Philip Kerr (3 books reviewed)
Private Eyes
Philip Kerr Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Philip Kerr uk
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Philip Kerr (
    -Granta Best Young Novelists: 1993
    -ESSAY: Shelf Life (Philip Kerr, Oct 12, 1996, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather: The Lost Years by Mark Winegardner (Philip Kerr, The Guardian)
    AUTHOR PAGE: Philip Kerr (Random House)
    -Bernie Gunther (Thrilling Detective)
    -SCOTTISH WRITERS: Philip Kerr (Slainte)
    -INTERVIEW: Exploring Argentina's Anti-Semitic Past: Philip Kerr's latest novel, "A Quiet Flame," examines Directive 11, a secret order issued in 1938 that barred Jews from entering Argentina (JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG, 3/17/09, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: Natural born thriller: Philip Kerr interview: Aidan Smith, 3/02/08, Scotland on Sunday)
    -ARCHIVES: "Philip Kerr" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr (BoldType)
    -REVIEW: of The Shot by Philip Kerr (Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton by Philip Kerr (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dark Matter (Roger K. Miller, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
    -REVIEW: of Dark Matter (Tom Nolan, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Meat by Philip Kerr (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Grid by Philip Kerr (James Polk, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Five Year Plan by Philip Kerr (NAN GOLDBERG, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Second Angel by Philip Kerr (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Second Angel (CHARLES FLOWERS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Second Angel by Philip Kerr (Claude Lalumière, InfinityPlus)
    -REVIEW: of The Second Angel (Gregg Thurlbeck, Rambles)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Peace by Philip Kerr (Roger K. Miller, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Peace (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr (Ron Rosenbaum, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of A Quiet Flame (Norman Price, EuroCrime)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Mike Ripley, EuroCrime)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Sarah Weinman, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Allan Massie, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Susanna Yager, Daily Telegraph
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Jake Kerridge, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Peter Millar, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (BookBrowse)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Irma Heldman, Open Letters)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Becky Guthrie, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Kevin Burton Smith, Mystery Scene)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Quiet Flame (Ron Rosenbaum, PJM)

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