John Reviews A Quiet Flame by Phillip Kerr!
A Quiet Flame is the fifth novel in the Bernie Gunther series, but the first I've read, having discovered it on the shelf of a second hand book store and judging it based purely on its cover. Thankfully, there was no point in the story I felt I was missing information from not having followed the full series.
Bernie Gunther is a classic fictional P.I; wisecracking and tenacious, with a knack for getting himself into all kinds of dramatic holes, and then digging in deeper. He was easy to like. There was one thing I found refreshing in this novel which I can imagine putting some people off- So often in historical fiction such as this, there's a desire to, I suppose, woke-wash the main character. That is, to make our protagonist see everything through a progressive, liberal 21st century eye. It's understandable, to some extent. It's much harder to like a hero who's racist or homophobic, although Bernie is not necessarily either of these things. But he's also not above using era-appropriate slang and having prejudices which would be morally frowned upon today.
The plot was interesting, weaving in real world characters and events to lend a certain authenticity to the tale. Bernie is forced to rub shoulders with several Nazi war criminals, characters we know from history to be absolutely despicable, and we're keen to see his interactions with them. Early on, the story flashes back to an investigation during 1932 in Berlin, set against the backdrop of the Nazi's rise to power. I found this setting fascinating, and found myself missing it slightly when we returned to Argentina.
One gripe I had was a lack of cohesion. What starts out as one case, linked to something Bernie investigated in the past, turns into three separate cases, with only tangential connections. Whilst the reasoning for this is sound, it felt like a bit of a cheat, robbing the reader of a huge revelatory moment tying everything together. That said, the conclusion to one of these cases provides a jaw-dropping moment, a sobering emotional gut-punch that was truly unexpected.
I very much look forward to reading more of Bernie's misadventures.
Four Stars out of a possible Five