This noir thriller (413 pages) was published in March of 2009 by Marian Wood Books/Putnam. The book takes you to 1950 Buenos Aires and 1932 Berlin. Melissa read A Quiet Flame and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
If you like WWII stories, snappy dialogue, and bad guys getting their well-deserved comeuppance — mashed up with fascinating history that drives a page-turning plot — this is the book for you.
This hard-boiled noir thriller is set in 1950 Buenos Aires with flashbacks to 1932 Berlin, and it stars one of the all-time great antiheroes: Bernie Gunther. He’s a decent man in dire circumstances. He falls in love with the wrong girl on the regular. And he does nothing to hide his contempt for Nazis, even when that POV puts him in mortal danger. As a police detective in Berlin, and later as a private eye, he has an exemplary close rate on his cases — and a long record of ticking off the wrong people.
The series spans the years leading up to WWII, the war, and the post-war period; no need to read them in order. In this installment, Bernie has been falsely identified as a war criminal, so he’s taking advantage of the open arms offered by Argentina. He’s off to start a new life on the other side of the Atlantic.
Although he’s traveled under a false identity, it’s not long before the local police realize they have a star detective in their midst. Bernie is pressured into investigating two cases — a gruesome murder and a kidnapping — that seem to be connected to one of his unsolved files from Berlin in 1932.
In real life, Argentina was officially neutral during the war but kept close ties to Germany because its high population of German immigrants. After the war, President Juan Perón secretly set up what are called ‘ratlines’ to smuggle high-ranking Nazis out of Europe.
As Bernie investigates the new cases and revisits his memories of the old one, he gets dangerously close to the president. His suspect pool is a who’s who of Nazis in hiding, including Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death who experimented on prisoners in the Auschwitz death camp, and Adolf Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust.
This story is chilling and suspenseful with a hint of doomed romance — Bernie being Bernie, there must be heartbreak. Terrible truths are revealed, justice is meted out, and Bernie carries on, although with new scars and a darker shade of jaded.
Buenos Aires looked and smelled like any European capital city before the war. As we drove through the busy streets, I wound down the window and took a deep, euphoric breath of exhaust fumes, cigar smoke, coffee, expensive cologne, cooked meat, fresh fruit, flowers, and money. It was like returning to earth after a journey into space. Germany, with its rationing and war damage and guilt and Allied tribunals, seemed a million miles away. In Buenos Aires there was lots of traffic because there was lots of petrol. The carefree people were well dressed and well fed, because the shops were full of clothes and food. Far from being a remote backwater, Buenos Aires was almost a Belle Époque throwback. Almost. — Philip Kerr
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