Genre Genre Genre

Dirty Big Secret

"Berlin Noir" jets to Argentina.

Book Digest English writer Philip Kerr, who has authored 19 novels (including some children’s books) and found himself on Granta’s second “Best of Young British Novelists” list in 1993 (along with Louis de Bernières, A.L. Kennedy, Will Self, and Kazuo Ishiguro), may be most well known for what has became known as the Berlin Noir trilogy, the initial volume of which (March Violets) was published 20 years ago. The setting is pre-Second World War Germany; the center of the drama is hardboiled detective Bernie Gunther. Kerr reprised Gunther in 2006’s The One From the Other; in A Quiet Flame (Putnam) we are treated to yet another episode—this one set in post-war Buenos Aires, 1950.

Having served in the SS, Gunther (though not a Nazi) has found it expedient to immigrate to the Nazi-friendly shores of Argentina (can you guess who his fellow émigrés are?), where he is quickly shanghaied into investigating the gruesome murders of two young girls. The trail leads him to encounters with Juan Perón, Evita, a cluster of war criminals, and the indigenous state security apparatus (neo-Nazis), who introduced the quaint policy of disappearing its victims from airplanes 5,000 feet over the Río de la Plata. Long before the Dirty Little War, Bernie discovers a dirty big secret that brings him perilously close to his own parachute-less flight over the Plata. Kerr knows his stuff (made clear in his flight of historical fancy, Hitler’s Peace), though my favorite of his stories still remains A Philosophical Investigation, set in a not-too-future dystopic England with a serial murderer who lures contemporary philosophers into his mad killing spree.
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