The New York Times
A Quiet Flame (Bernie Gunther Series #5)by Philip Kerr
Bernie Gunther returns to trail a serial killer in 1950's Buenos Aires
When he introduced Bernie Gunther in the original Berlin Noir trilogy, Philip Kerr immediately established himself as a thriller writer on par with Raymond Chandler. His new Bernie Gunther novels have won him comparisons with Alan Furst, John le Carré, and Graham Greene. A/b>
Bernie Gunther returns to trail a serial killer in 1950's Buenos Aires
When he introduced Bernie Gunther in the original Berlin Noir trilogy, Philip Kerr immediately established himself as a thriller writer on par with Raymond Chandler. His new Bernie Gunther novels have won him comparisons with Alan Furst, John le Carré, and Graham Greene. A Quiet Flame finds Gunther in Argentina, circa 1950, where he- falsely accused of Nazi war crimes-has been offered a new life and a clean passport by the Perón government. But the tough, fast-talking detective doesn't have the luxury of laying low when a serial killer- whose crimes may reach back to Berlin before the war-is mutilating young girls. Taut, gritty, and loaded with evocative historical detail, A Quiet Flame is among Kerr's best work yet.
The New York Times
At the start of Kerr's stellar fifth Bernie Gunther novel (after The One from the Other), the former Berlin homicide detective seeks exile in Argentina in 1950, along with others connected to the Nazi past (one of his fellow ship passengers is Adolf Eichmann). A few weeks after Gunther arrives in Buenos Aires, a local policeman, Colonel Montalbán, asks his help in solving the savage murder of 15-year-old Grete Wohlauf. Montalbán has noticed similarities between this crime and two unsolved murders Gunther investigated in 1932 Germany. Another teenage girl's disappearance heightens the urgency of the inquiry. In exchange for free medical treatment for his just diagnosed thyroid cancer, Gunther agrees to subtly grill members of the large German community. A secret he stumbles on soon places his life in jeopardy. Kerr, who's demonstrated his versatility with high-quality entries in other genres, cleverly and plausibly grafts history onto a fast-paced thriller plot. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
British novelist Kerr's fifth Bernie Gunther thriller finds the German private detective in 1950 Argentina, where he has fled with other "Old Comrades" after his identity was compromised (see The One from the Other). Bernie's past as a police officer involuntarily absorbed into the SS continues to dog his heels. Recognized by Colonel Montalbán of Juan Perón's secret police, he is forced into investigating an apparent lust murder and the disappearance of a wealthy young girl. The first case has eerie similarities to an unsolved homicide that Bernie investigated in Berlin in 1932; the second ties in with an attempt to seize Nazi plunder hidden in Swiss banks. But the situation becomes complicated as the detective risks his life to track down and interrogate several ex-Nazis involved in nefarious deeds. Authentic period detail, biting wit, sparkling metaphors, and an engaging character whose moral ambiguity places him in perilous situations make this a read to savor. Fans of the earlier series titles will love the extended sections that re-create the grimly decadent atmosphere of the last days of the Weimar Republic. Highly recommended for public libraries.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 2 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 3 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 4 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 5 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 6 - BERLIN, 1932
Chapter 7 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 8 - BERLIN, 1932
Chapter 9 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 10 - BERLIN, 1932
Chapter 11 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 12 - BERLIN, 1932
Chapter 13 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 14 - BERLIN, 1933, AND BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 15 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 16 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 17 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 18 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 19 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 20 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 21 - TUCUMÁN, 1950
Chapter 22 - TUCUMÁN, 1950
Chapter 23 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 24 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 25 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
Chapter 26 - BUENOS AIRES, 1950
ALSO BY PHILIP KERR
The Pale Criminal
A German Requiem
A Philosophical Investigation
A Five-Year Plan
The Second Angel
Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton
The One from the Other
FOR CHILDREN (AS P. B. KERR)
Children of the Lamp
The Akhenaten Adventure
The Blue Djinn of Babylon
The Cobra King of Kathmandu
The Day of the Djinn Warriors
The Eye of the Forest
One Small Step
A Marian Wood Book
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publishers Since 1838
a member of the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Originally published in the United Kingdom by Quercus in 2008
First U.S. edition copyright © 2009 by Philip Kerr
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned,
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Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A quiet flame : a Bernie Gunther novel / Philip Kerr.
“A Marian Wood book.”
eISBN : 978-1-101-01647-3
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Para los desaparecidos
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
THE BOAT WAS THE SS Giovanni, which seemed only appropriate given the fact that at least three of its passengers, including myself, had been in the SS. It was a medium-sized boat with two funnels, a view of the sea, a well-stocked bar, and an Italian restaurant. This was fine if you liked Italian food, but after four weeks at sea at eight knots, all the way from Genoa, I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sad to get off. Either I’m not much of a sailor or there was something else wrong with me other than the company I was keeping these days.
We steamed into the port of Buenos Aires along the gray River Plate, and this gave me and my two fellow travelers a chance to reflect upon the proud history of our invincible German navy. Somewhere at the bottom of the river, near Montevideo, lay the wreck of the Graf Spee, a pocket battleship that had been invincibly scuttled by its commander in December 1939, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the British. As far as I knew, this was as near as the war ever came to Argentina.
In the North Basin we docked alongside the customs house. A modern city of tall concrete buildings lay spread out to the west of us, beyond the miles of rail track and the warehouses and the stockyards where Buenos Aires got started—as a place where cattle from the Argentine pampas arrived by train and were slaughtered on an industrial scale. So far, so German. But then the carcasses were frozen and shipped all over the world. Exports of Argentine beef had made the country rich and transformed Buenos Aires into the third-largest city in the Americas, after New York and Chicago.
The three million population called themselves porteños—people of the port—which sounds pleasantly romantic. My two friends and I called ourselves refugees, which sounds better than fugitives. But that’s what we were. Rightly or wrongly, there was a kind of justice awaiting all of us back in Europe, and our Red Cross passports concealed our true identities. I was no more Dr. Carlos Hausner than Adolf Eichmann was Ricardo Klement, or Herbert Kuhlmann was Pedro Geller. This was fine with the Argentines. They didn’t care who we were or what we’d done during the war. Even so, on that cool and damp winter morning in July 1950, it seemed there were still certain official proprieties to be observed.
An immigration clerk and a customs officer came aboard the ship, and as each passenger presented documents, they asked questions. If these two didn’t care who we were or what we’d done, they did a good job giving us the opposite impression. The mahogany-faced immigration clerk regarded Eichmann’s flimsy-looking passport and then Eichmann himself as if both had arrived from the center of a cholera epidemic. This wasn’t so far from the truth. Europe was only just recovering from an illness called Nazism that had killed more than fifty million people.
“Profession?” the clerk asked Eichmann.
Eichmann’s meat cleaver of a face twitched nervously. “Technician,” he said, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. It wasn’t hot, but Eichmann seemed to feel a different kind of heat from that felt by anyone else I ever met.
Meanwhile, the customs official, who smelled like a cigar factory, turned to me. His nostrils flared as if he could smell the money I was carrying in my bag, and then he lifted his cracked lip off his bamboo teeth in what passed for a smile in that line of work. I had about thirty thousand Austrian schillings in that bag, which was a lot of money in Austria, but not so much money when it was converted into real money. I didn’t expect him to know that. In my experience, customs officials can do almost anything they want except be generous or forgiving when they catch sight of large quantities of currency.
“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“Clothes. Toiletries. Some money.”
“Would you mind showing me?”
“No,” I said, minding very much. “I don’t mind at all.”
I heaved the bag onto a trestle table and was just about to unbuckle it when a man hurried up the ship’s gangway, shouting something in Spanish and then, in German, “It’s all right. I’m sorry I’m late. There’s no need for all this formality. There’s been a misunderstanding. Your papers are quite in order. I know because I prepared them myself.”
He said something else in Spanish about the three of us being important visitors from Germany, and immediately the attitude of the two officials changed. Both men came to attention. The immigration clerk facing Eichmann handed him back his passport, clicked his heels, and then gave Europe’s most wanted man the Hitler salute with a loud “Heil Hitler” that everyone on deck must have heard.
Eichmann turned several shades of red and, like a giant tortoise, shrank a little into the collar of his coat, as if he wished he might disappear. Kuhlmann and I laughed out loud, enjoying Eichmann’s embarrassment and discomfort as he snatched back his passport and stormed down the gangway and onto the quay. We were still laughing as we joined Eichmann in the back of a big black American car with a sign, VIANORD, displayed in the windshield.
“I don’t think that was in the least bit funny,” said Eichmann.
“Sure you don’t,” I said. “That’s what makes it so funny.”
“You should have seen your face, Ricardo,” said Kuhlmann. “What on earth possessed him to say that, of all things? And to you, of all people?” Kuhlmann started to laugh again. “Heil Hitler, indeed.”
“I thought he made a pretty good job of it,” I said. “For an amateur.”
Our host, who had jumped into the driver’s seat, now turned around to shake our hands. “I’m sorry about that,” he told Eichmann. “Some of these officials are just pig-ignorant. In fact, the words we have for pig and public official are the same. Chanchos. We call them both chanchos. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that idiot believes Hitler is still the German leader.”
“God, I wish he was,” murmured Eichmann, rolling his eyes into the roof of the car. “How I wish he was.”
“My name is Horst Fuldner,” said our host. “But my friends in Argentina call me Carlos.”
“Small world,” I said. “That’s what my friends in Argentina call me. Both of them.”
Some people came down the gangway and peered inquisitively through the passenger window at Eichmann.
“Can we get away from here?” he asked. “Please.”
“Better do as he says, Carlos,” I said. “Before someone recognizes Ricardo here and telephones David Ben-Gurion.”
“You wouldn’t joke about that if you were in my shoes,” said Eichmann. “The soaps would stop at nothing to kill me.”
Fuldner started the car and Eichmann relaxed visibly as we drove smoothly away.
“Since you mentioned the soaps,” said Fuldner, “it’s worth discussing what to do if any of you is recognized.”
“Nobody’s going to recognize me,” Kuhlmann said. “Besides, it’s the Canadians who want me, not the Jews.”
“All the same,” said Fuldner, “I’ll say it anyway. After the Spanish and the Italians, the soaps are the country’s largest ethnic group. Only we call them los rusos, on account of the fact that most of the ones who are here came to get away from the Russian czar’s pogrom.”
“Which one?” Eichmann asked.
“How do you mean?”
“There were three pogroms,” said Eichmann. “One in 1821, one between 1881 and 1884, and a third that got started 1903. The Kishinev pogrom.”
“Ricardo knows everything about Jews,” I said. “Except how to be nice to them.”
“Oh, I should think, the most recent pogrom,” said Fuldner.
“It figures,” said Eichmann, ignoring me. “The Kishinev was the worst.”
“That’s when most of them came to Argentina, I think. There are as many as a quarter of a million Jews here in Buenos Aires. They live in three main neighborhoods, which I advise you to steer clear of. Villa Crespo along Corrientes, Belgrano, and Once. If you think you are recognized, don’t lose your head, don’t make a scene. Keep calm. Cops here are heavy-handed and none too bright. Like that chancho on the boat. If there’s any kind of trouble, they’re liable to arrest you and the Jew who thinks he’s recognized you.”
“So there’s not much chance of a pogrom here, then?” observed Eichmann.
“Lord, no,” said Fuldner.
“Thank goodness,” said Kuhlmann. “I’ve had enough of all that nonsense.”
“We haven’t had anything like that since what’s called Tragic Week. And even that was mostly political. Anarchists, you know. Back in 1919.”
“Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Jews, they’re all the same animal,” said Eichmann, who had become unusually talkative.
“Of course, during the last war, the government issued an order forbidding all Jewish immigration to Argentina. But more recently things have changed. The Americans have put pressure on Perón to soften our Jewish policy. To let them come and settle here. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more Jews on that boat than anyone else.”
“That’s a comforting thought,” said Eichmann.
“It’s all right,” insisted Fuldner. “You’re quite safe here. Porteños don’t give a damn about what happened in Europe. Least of all to the Jews. Besides, nobody believes half of what’s been in the English-language papers and on the newsreels.”
“Half would be quite bad enough,” I murmured. It was enough to push a stick through the spokes of a conversation I was starting to dislike. But mostly it was just Eichmann I disliked. I much preferred the other Eichmann. The one who had spent the last four weeks saying almost nothing, and keeping his loathsome opinions to himself. It was too soon to have much of an opinion about Carlos Fuldner.
From the back of his well-oiled head I judged Fuldner to be around forty. His German was fluent but with a little soft color on the edges of the tones. To speak the language of Goethe and Schiller, you have to stick your vowels in a pencil sharpener. He liked to talk, that much was evident. He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t good-looking, but then he wasn’t short or ugly either, just ordinary, in a good suit, with good manners, and a nice manicure. I got another look at him when he pulled up at a level crossing and turned around to offer us some cigarettes. His mouth was wide and sensuous, his eyes were lazy but intelligent, and his forehead was as high as a church cupola. If you’d been casting a movie, you’d have picked him to play a priest, or a lawyer, or maybe a hotel manager. He snapped his thumb on a Dunhill, lit his cigarette, then began telling us about himself. That was fine by me. Now that we were no longer talking about Jews, Eichmann stared out of the window and looked bored. But I’m the kind who listens politely to stories about my redeemer. After all, that’s why my mother sent me to Sunday school.
“I was born here, in Buenos Aires, to German immigrants,” said Fuldner. “But for a while, we went back to live in Germany, in Kassel, where I went to school. After school I worked in Hamburg. Then, in 1932, I joined the SS and was a captain before being seconded to the SD to run an intelligence operation back here in Argentina. Since the war I and a few others have been running Vianord—a travel agency dedicated to helping our old comrades to escape from Europe. Of course, none of it would be possible without the help of the president and his wife, Eva. It was during Evita’s trip to Rome, in 1947, to meet the pope, that she began to see the necessity of giving men such as you a fresh start in life.”
“So there’s still some anti-Semitism in the country, after all,” I remarked.
Kuhlmann laughed, and so did Fuldner. But Eichmann remained silent.
“It’s good to be with Germans again,” said Fuldner. “Humor is not a national characteristic of the Argentines. They’re much too concerned with their dignity to laugh at very much, least of all themselves.”
“They sound a lot like fascists,” I said.
“That’s another thing. Fascism here is only skin-deep. The Argentines don’t have the will or the inclination to be proper fascists.”
“Maybe I’m going to like it here more than I thought,” I said.
“Really,” exclaimed Eichmann.
“Don’t mind me, Herr Fuldner,” I said. “I’m not quite as rabid as our friend here wearing the bow tie and glasses, that’s all. He’s still in denial. To do with all kinds of things. For all I know, he still holds fast to the idea that the Third Reich is going to last for a thousand years.”
“You mean it isn’t?”
“Must you make a joke about everything, Hausner?” Eichmann’s tone was testy and impatient.
“I only make jokes about the things that strike me as funny,” I said. “I wouldn’t dream of making a joke about something really important. Not and risk upsetting you, Ricardo.”
I felt Eichmann’s eyes burning into my cheek, and when I turned to face him, his mouth went thin and puritanical. For a moment he continued staring at me with the air of one who wished it was down the sights of a rifle.
“What are you doing here, Herr Doktor Hausner?”
“The same thing as you, Ricardo. I’m getting away from it all.”
“Yes, but why? Why? You don’t seem like much of a Nazi.”
“I’m the beefsteak kind. Brown on the outside only. Inside I’m really quite red.”
Eichmann stared out the window as if he couldn’t bear to look at me for a minute longer.
“I could use a good steak,” murmured Kuhlmann.
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” said Fuldner. “In Germany a steak is a steak, but here it’s a patriotic duty.”
We were still driving through the dockyards. Most of the names on the bonded warehouses and oil tanks were British or American: Oakley & Watling, Glasgow Wire, Wainwright Brothers, Ingham Clark, English Electric, Crompton Parkinson, and Western Telegraph. In front of a big, open warehouse a dozen rolls of newsprint the size of hayricks were turning to pulp in the early-morning rain. Laughing, Fuldner pointed them out.
“There,” he said, almost triumphantly. “That’s Perónism in action. Perón doesn’t close down opposition newspapers or arrest their editors. He doesn’t even stop them from having newsprint. He just makes sure that by the time it reaches them the newsprint isn’t fit to use. You see, Perón has all the major labor unions in his pocket. That’s your Argentine brand of fascism, right there.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
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.
The safe house was at Calle Monasterio 1429 in the Florida district. Fuldner said Florida was the smartest part of Buenos Aires, but you wouldn’t have known it from the inside of the safe house. The outside was shielded by a carapace of overgrown pine trees, and it was called a safe house probably because, from the street, you wouldn’t have known it was there at all. Inside, you knew it was there but wished it weren’t. The kitchen was rustic. The ceiling fans were just rusty. The wallpaper in all the rooms was yellow, although not by design, and the furniture looked as if it was trying to return to nature. Poisonous, half decayed, vaguely fungal, it was the kind of house that belonged in a bottle of formaldehyde.
I was shown to a bedroom with a broken shutter, a threadbare rug, and a brass bed with a mattress as thin as a slice of rye bread and about as comfortable. Through the grimy, cobwebbed window I looked out onto a little garden overgrown with jasmine, ferns, and vines. There was a small fountain that hadn’t worked in a while: a cat had littered several kittens in it, right underneath a copper waterspout that was as green as the cat’s eyes. But it wasn’t all bad news. At least I had my own bathroom. The bathtub was full of old books, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take a bath in it. I like to read when I’m in the bath.
Another German was already staying there. His face was red and puffy and there were bags under his eyes like a naval cook’s hammock. His hair was the color of straw and about as tidy, and his body was thin and scarred with what looked like bullet holes. These were easy to see, because he wore his malodorous remnant of a dressing gown off one shoulder, like a toga. On his legs were varicose veins as big as fossilized lizards. He seemed a stoic sort, who probably slept in a barrel, but for the pint of liquor in his dressing-gown pocket and the monocle in his eye, which added a jaunty, polished touch. It looked like a sprig of parsley on a cowpat.
Fuldner introduced him as Fernando Eifler but I didn’t suppose that was his real name. The three of us smiled politely but we were all possessed of the same thought: that if we stayed in the safe house long enough, we would end up like Fernando Eifler.
“I say, do any of you chaps have a cigarette?” asked Eifler. “I seem to have run out.”
Kuhlmann handed one over and helped him get it alight. Meanwhile Fuldner apologized for the poor quarters, saying it was only for a few days and explained that the only reason Eifler was still there was that he had turned down every job offered to him by the DAIE, the organization that had brought us to Argentina. He said this quite matter-of-factly, but our new housemate bristled noticeably.
“I didn’t come halfway around the world to work,” Eifler said sourly. “What do you take me for? I’m a German officer and a gentleman, not a bloody bank clerk. Really, Fuldner. It’s too much to expect. There was no talk of working for a living when we were back in Genoa. I’d never have come if I’d known you people expected me to earn my bread and butter. I mean it’s bad enough that one has to leave one’s family home in Germany without obliging one to accept the added humiliation of reporting regularly to an employer.”
“Perhaps you’d have preferred it if the Allies had hanged you, Herr Eifler?” said Eichmann.
“An American noose or an Argentinean halter,” said Eifler. “It’s not much of a choice for a man of my background. Frankly, I should prefer to have been shot by the Popovs than face a clerk’s desk at nine o’clock every morning. It’s uncivilized.” He smiled thinly at Kuhlmann. “Thank you for the cigarette. And by the way, welcome to Argentina. Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen.” He bowed stiffly, limped into his room, and closed the door behind him.
Fuldner shrugged and said, “Some find it harder to adjust than others. Especially aristocrats like Eifler.”
“I might have known,” sniffed Eichmann.
“I’ll leave you and Herr Geller to settle in,” Fuldner told Eichmann. Then he looked at me. “Herr Hausner. You have an appointment this morning.”
“Yes. We’re going to the police station at Moreno,” he said. “To the Registry of Foreign Persons. All new arrivals have to report there in order to obtain a cédula de identidad. I can assure you it’s only a matter of routine, Herr Doktor Hausner. Photographs and fingerprints, that kind of thing. You’ll all need to have one to work, of course, but for appearances’ sake, it’s best you don’t all go at the same time.”
But outside the safe house Fuldner confessed that while it was true that all of us would require a cédula from the local police station, this was not, in fact, where we were now going. “Only I had to tell them something,” he said. “I could hardly tell them where we’re really going without hurting their feelings.”
“We certainly wouldn’t want that to happen, no,” I said, climbing into the car.
“And please, when we come back, don’t for Christ’s sake say where you’ve been. Thanks to Eifler, there’s already enough resentment in that house without you adding to the store of it.”
“Of course. It’ll be our little secret.”
“You’re making a joke,” he said, starting the engine and driving us away. “But I’m the one who’s going to be laughing when you find out where you’re going.”
“Don’t tell me I’m being deported already.”
“No, nothing like that. We’re going to see the president.”
“Juan Perón wants to see me?”
Fuldner laughed just like he’d said he would. I guess my face did look kind of silly at that.
“What did I do? Win an important award? Most promising Nazi newcomer to Argentina?”
“Believe it or not, Perón likes to greet a lot of German officers who arrive here in Argentina, personally. He’s very fond of Germany and the Germans.”
“It’s not everyone you can say that about.”
“He is a military man, after all.”
“I imagine that’s why they made him a general.”
“He likes to meet medical men, most of all. Perón’s grandfather was a doctor. He himself wanted to be a doctor, but instead he went to the National Military Academy.”
“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I said. “Killing people instead of healing them.”
Dropping a couple of ice cubes into my voice, I said, “Don’t think I’m not well aware of the great honor, Carlos. But you know, it’s been quite a few years since I plugged my ears with a stethoscope. I hope he’s not looking to me to come up with a cure for cancer, or to give him the gossip from the latest German medical journal. After all, I’ve been hiding out in the coal shed for the last five years.”
“Relax,” said Fuldner. “You’re not the first Nazi doctor I’ve had to introduce to the president. And I don’t suppose you’ll be the last. Your being a medical man is merely a confirmation of the fact that you are an educated man, and a gentleman.”
“When the occasion demands, I can pass for a gentleman,” I said. I buttoned my shirt collar, straightened my tie, and checked my watch. “Does he always receive visitors with his boiled eggs and his newspaper?”
“Perón is usually in his office by seven,” said Fuldner. “In there. The Casa Rosada.”
Fuldner nodded at a pink-colored building at the far side of a plaza lined with palm trees and statuary. It looked like an Indian maharajah’s palace I’d once seen in a magazine. “Pink,” I said. “My favorite color for a government building. Who knows? Maybe Hitler might still have been in power if he’d had the Reich chancellery painted a nicer color than gray.”
“There’s a story why it’s pink,” said Fuldner.
“Don’t tell me. It’ll help me to relax if I can think of Perón as the kind of president who prefers pink. Believe me, Carlos, this is all very reassuring.”
“That reminds me. You were joking about being a red, weren’t you?”
“I was in a Soviet prison camp for almost two years, Carlos. What do you think?”
He drove around to a side entrance and waved a security pass at the guard on the barrier before carrying on through to a central courtyard. In front of an ornate marble stairway stood two grenadiers. With tall hats and drawn sabers, they looked like an illustration from an old fairy tale. I glanced up at the loggia-style upper gallery that overlooked the courtyard, half expecting to see Zorro show up for a fencing lesson. Instead I caught sight of a neat little blonde eyeing us with interest. She was wearing more diamonds than seemed decent at breakfast time and an elaborate baker’s loaf of a hairstyle. I thought I might borrow a saber and cut myself a slice of it if I got a bit peckish.
“That’s her,” said Fuldner. “Evita. The president’s wife.”
“Somehow I didn’t think she was the cleaning lady. Not with all the mints she’s wearing.”
We walked up the stairway into a richly furnished hall where several women were milling about. Despite the fact Perón’s was a military dictatorship, nobody up here was wearing a uniform. When I remarked on this, Fuldner told me that Perón didn’t care for uniforms, preferring a degree of informality that people sometimes found surprising. I might also have remarked that the women in the hall were very beautiful and that perhaps he preferred them to uglier ones, in which case he was a dictator after my own heart. The kind of dictator I would have been myself if a highly developed sense of social justice and democracy had not hindered my own will to power and autocracy.
Contrary to what Fuldner had told me, it seemed that the president had not yet arrived at his desk. And while we awaited his much anticipated arrival, one of the secretaries fetched us coffee on a little silver tray. Then we smoked. The secretaries smoked, too. Everyone in Buenos Aires smoked. For all I knew, even the cats and dogs had a twenty-a-day habit. Then, outside the high windows, I heard a noise like a lawn mower. I put down my coffee cup and went to take a look. I was just in time to see a tall man climbing off a motor scooter. It was the president, although I would hardly have known that from his modest means of transport or his casual appearance. I kept comparing Perón with Hitler and trying to imagine the Führer dressed for golf and riding a lime-green scooter down the Wilhelmstrasse.
The president parked the scooter and came up the stairs two at a time, his thick English brogues hitting the marble steps like the sound of someone working the heavy bag in the gym. He may have looked more like a golfer in his flat cap, tan-colored zip-up cardigan, brown plus-fours, and thick woolen socks, but he had a boxer’s grace and build. Not quite six feet tall, with dark hair brushed back on his head and a nose more Roman than the Colosseum, he reminded me of Primo Carnera, the Italian heavyweight. They would have been about the same age, too. I figured Perón to be in his early fifties. The dark hair looked as if it got blacked and polished every day when the grenadiers cleaned their riding boots.
One of the secretaries handed him some papers while another threw open the double doors of his office. In there, the look was more conventionally autocratic. There were lots of equestrian bronzes, oak paneling, portraits that were still wet, expensive rugs, and Corinthian columns. He waved us to a couple of leather armchairs, tossed the papers onto a desk the size of a trebuchet, and flung his cap and jacket to another secretary, who hugged them to her not-insubstantial bosom in a way that made me think she wished he was still wearing them.
Someone else brought him a little demitasse of coffee, a glass of water, a gold pen, and a gold holder with a cigarette already lit. He took a loud sip of coffee, put the holder in his mouth, picked up the pen, and started to add his signature to the documents presented earlier. I was close enough to pay attention to his signature style: the flourishing, egoistic capital J; the aggressive, showy final downward stroke of the n of “Perón.” On the basis of his handwriting, I made a quick psychological evaluation of the man and concluded that he was the neurotic, anal-retentive type who preferred people to be able to read what he had actually written. Not like a doctor at all, I told myself with relief.
Apologizing in almost fluent German for keeping us waiting, Perón carried a silver cigarette box to our fingers. Then we shook hands and I felt the heavy knob of bone at the base of his thumb that made me think yet again of him as a boxer. That and the broken veins under the thin skin that covered his high cheekbones, and the dental plate that was revealed by his easy smile. In a country where no one has a sense of humor, the smiling man is king. I smiled back, thanked him for his hospitality, and then complimented the president on his German, in Spanish.
“No, please,” Perón answered, in German. “I very much enjoy speaking German. It’s good practice for me. When I was a young cadet at our military school, all of our instructors were Germans. This was before the Great War, in 1911. We had to learn German because our weapons were German and all of our technical manuals were in German. We even learned to goose-step. Every day at six p.m., my grenadiers goose-step onto the Plaza de Mayo to take the flag down from the pole. The next time you visit, you must make sure it’s at that time so that you can see for yourself.”
“I will, sir.” I let him light my cigarette. “But I think my own goose-stepping days are over. These days it’s as much as I can do to climb a set of stairs without running out of breath.”
“Me, too.” Perón grinned. “But I try to keep fit. I like to ride and to ski when I have the chance. In 1939, I went skiing in the Alps. In Austria and Germany. Germany was wonderful then. A well-oiled machine. It was like being inside one of those great big Mercedes-Benz motorcars. Smooth and powerful and exciting. Yes, it was an important time in my life.”
“Yes, sir.” I kept on smiling at him, as though I agreed with every word he said. The fact was, I hated the sight of goose-stepping soldiers. To me it was one of the most unpleasant sights in the world; something both terrifying and ridiculous that defied you to laugh at it. And as for 1939, it had been an important time in everyone’s life. Especially if you happened to be Polish, or French, or British, or even German. Who in Europe would ever forget 1939?
“How are things in Germany right now?” he asked.
“For the ordinary fellow, they’re pretty tough,” I said. “But it really depends on whose zone you’re in. Worst of all is the Soviet zone of occupation. Things are hardest of all where the Ivans are in charge. Even for the Ivans. Most people just want to put the war behind them and get on with the reconstruction.”
“It’s amazing what has been achieved in such a short period of time,” said Perón.
“Oh, I don’t just mean reconstruction of our cities, sir. Although of course that is important. No, I mean the reconstruction of our most fundamental beliefs and institutions. Freedom, justice, democracy. A parliament. A fair-minded police force. An independent judiciary. Eventually, when all of that has been recovered, we might regain some self-respect.”
Perón’s eyes narrowed. “I must say you don’t sound very much like a Nazi,” he said.
“It has been five years, sir,” I said. “Since we lost the war. There’s no point in thinking about what’s gone. Germany needs to look to the future.”
“That’s what we need in Argentina,” said Perón. “Some forward thinking. A bit of the German can-do, eh, Fuldner?”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, sir,” I said, “but from what I’ve seen so far, there’s nothing Germany can teach Argentina.”
“This is a very Catholic country, Dr. Hausner,” he told me. “It’s very set in its ways. We need modern thinking. We need scientists. Good managers. Technicians. Doctors like yourself.” He clapped me on the shoulder.
Two little poodles ambled in, accompanied by a strong smell of expensive perfume, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the blonde with the Ku-damm hairdo and the diamonds had entered the room. With her were two men. One was of medium height, with fair hair and a mustache, and a quiet, unassuming way about him. The other looked older, about forty, and was taller and physically more powerful; he was gray-haired and wore thick-framed, tinted glasses and a small beard and mustache. Something about him made me think he might be a cop.
“Will you practice medicine again?” Perón asked me. “I’m sure we can make that possible. Rodolfo?”
The younger man by the door unfolded his arms and pushed himself off the wall. He glanced at the man with the beard for a moment. “If the police have no objection?” His German was every bit as fluent as his master’s.
The man with the beard shook his head.
“I’ll ask Ramón Carrillo to look into it, shall I, sir?” said Rodolfo. From the pocket of his beautifully tailored pinstripe suit he took out a small leather notebook and made a note with a silver propelling pencil.
Perón nodded. “Please do,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder a second time.
In spite of his declared admiration for goose-stepping, I found myself liking the president. I liked him for his motor scooter and his ridiculous plus-fours. I liked him for his slugger’s paw and his stupid little dogs. I liked him for his warm welcome and the easy way he had about him. And—who knows?—maybe I liked him because I badly needed to like someone. Maybe that’s why he was president, I don’t know. But there was something about Juan Perón that made me want to take a gamble on him. Which is why after months of pretending to be someone else who was pretending to be Dr. Carlos Hausner, I decided to level with him about who and what I really was.
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
I PUT OUT my cigarette in an ashtray as big as a wheel hub, which lay on the president’s uncluttered desk. Next to the ashtray was a Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry box—the leather kind that looks like it would make a swell gift on its own. I figured the contents of that box were pinned to the little blonde’s lapel. She was fussing with the dogs as I started my noble-sounding monologue. It took only a minute to get her attention. I flatter myself that when the spirit moves me, I can make myself more interesting than any small dog. Besides, I guessed it wasn’t every day that someone in the president’s office tells him he’d made a mistake.
“Mr. President, sir,” I said. “I think there’s something I should tell you. Since this is a Catholic country, maybe you can call it confession.” Seeing all their faces blanch, I smiled. “It’s all right. I’m not about to tell you about all the terrible things I did during the war. There were some things I’m not happy about, sure. But I don’t have the lives of innocent men and women on my conscience. No, my confession is something much more ordinary. You see, I’m not a doctor at all, sir. There was a doctor back in Germany. A fellow named Gruen. He wanted to go and live in America, only he worried what might happen to him if they ever found out what he’d done during the war. So, to take the heat off himself, he decided to make it look like I was him. Then he told the Israelis and the Allied war-crimes people where to come and look for me. Anyway, he did such a good job of convincing everyone I was him that I was obliged to go on the run. Eventually I turned for help to the old comrades and the Delegation for Argentine Emigration in Europe. Carlos, here. Don’t get me wrong, sir, I’m very grateful to be here. I had a hard job convincing an Israeli death squad that I wasn’t Gruen and was obliged to leave a couple of them dead in the snow near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. So you see, I really am a fugitive. I’m just not the fugitive you might think I am. And in particular, I am not and never have been a doctor.”
“So who the hell are you? Really?” It was Carlos Fuldner, and he sounded annoyed.
“My real name is Bernhard Gunther. I was in the SD. Working for intelligence. I was captured by the Russians and was interned in a camp before escaping. But before the war I was a policeman. A detective with the Berlin police force.”
“Did you say a detective?” This was the man with the small beard and the tinted glasses. The one I’d marked down as a cop. “What kind of a detective?”
“I worked in Homicide, mostly.”
“What was your rank?” asked the cop.
“When war was declared in 1939, I was a KOK. A Kriminal Oberkommissar. A chief inspector.”
“Then you’ll remember Ernst Gennat.”
“Of course. He was my mentor. Taught me everything I know.”
“What was it that the newspapers used to call him?”
“The Full Ernst. On account of his bulk and fondness for cakes.”
“What happened to him? Do you know?”
“He was deputy chief of the criminal police until his death in 1939. He had a heart attack.”
“Too many cakes.”
“Gunther, Gunther,” he said, as though trying to shake a thought like an apple from a tree growing in the back of his head. “Yes, of course. I know you.”
“I was in Berlin. Before the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Studying jurisprudence at the university.”
The cop came closer, close enough for me to smell the coffee and the cigarettes on his breath, and took off his glasses. I guessed he smoked a lot. For one thing, there was a cigarette in his mouth, and for another, his voice sounded like a smoked herring. There were laugh lines around the gray iron filings that constituted his mustache and his beard, but the walnut of a frown knotted between his bloodshot blue eyes told me that maybe he’d got out of the habit of smiling. His eyes narrowed as he searched my face for more answers.
“You know, you were a hero of mine. Believe it or not, you’re one of the reasons I gave up the idea of being a lawyer and became a policeman instead.” He looked at Perón. “Sir, this man was a famous Berlin detective. When I first went there, in 1928, there was a notorious strangler. His name was Gormann. This is the man who caught him. At the time it was quite a cause célèbre.” He looked back at me. “I’m right, aren’t I? You are that Gunther.”
“His name was in all the newspapers. I used to follow all your cases, as closely as I was able. Yes indeed, you were a hero of mine, Herr Gunther.”
By now he was shaking my hand. “And now you’re here. Amazing.”
Perón glanced at his gold wristwatch. I was beginning to bore him. The cop saw it, too. Not much escaped him. We might have lost the president’s attention altogether if Evita hadn’t walked up to me and given me a once-over like I was a spavined horse.
Eva Perón’s was a good figure, if you liked women who were interesting to draw. I never yet have seen a painting that convinces me those old masters preferred women who were skinny. Evita’s figure was interesting in all the right places between the knees and the shoulders. Which is not to say that I found her attractive. She was too cool, too businesslike, too efficient, too composed for my taste. I like a little vulnerability in my women. Especially at breakfast time. In her navy-blue suit Evita already looked dressed to launch a ship. Somewhere more important than here, talking to me, anyway. On the back of her bottle-blond hair was a little navy-blue velvet beret, while over her arm was a Russian winter’s worth of sables. Not that any of that caught my eye very much. Mostly my eyes were on the mint candies she was wearing—the little chandeliers of diamonds in her ears, the floral bouquet of diamonds on her lapel, and the dazzling golfball on her finger. It looked like it had been an excellent year for Van Cleef & Arpels.
“So, we have a famous detective, here in Buenos Aires,” she said. “How very fascinating.”
“I don’t know about famous,” I said. “ ‘Famous’ is a word for a boxer or a movie star, not a detective. Sure, the police leaders of Weimar encouraged the newspapers to believe that some of us were more successful than others. But that was just public relations. To give the public confidence in our ability to solve crimes. I’m afraid you couldn’t write more than a couple of very dull paragraphs in today’s newspapers about the kind of detective I was, ma’am.”
Eva Perón tried a smile, but it didn’t stay long. Her lipstick was flawless and her teeth were perfect, but her eyes weren’t in it. It was like being smiled at by a temperate glacier.
“Your modesty is, shall we say, typical of all your fellow countrymen,” she said. “It seems none of you was ever very important. Always it is someone else who deserves the credit or, more usually, the blame. Isn’t that right, Herr Gunther?”
There were a lot of things I might have said to that. But when the president’s wife takes a swing at you, it’s best to take it on the chin as though you’ve got a boiler-plated jaw, even if it does hurt.
“Only ten years ago, Germans thought they should rule the world. Now all they want to do is live quietly and be left alone. Is that what you want, Herr Gunther? To live quietly? To be left alone?”
It was the cop who came to my aid. “Please, ma’am,” he said. “He is just being modest. Take my word for it. Herr Gunther was a great detective.”
“We’ll see,” she said.
“Take the compliment, Herr Gunther. If I can remember your name, after all these years, then surely you would have to agree that, in this case at least, modesty is misplaced.”
I shrugged. “Perhaps,” I allowed.
“Well,” said Evita. “I must be going. I’ll leave Herr Gunther and Colonel Montalbán to their mutual admiration.”
I watched her go. I was glad to see the back of her. More important, I was glad to see her behind. Even under the president’s eye it demanded attention. I didn’t know any Argentine tango tunes, but watching her closely sheathed tail as she stalked gracefully out of her husband’s office, I felt like humming one. In a different room and wearing a clean shirt, I might have tried slapping it. Some men liked slapping a guitar or a set of dominoes. With me it was a woman’s ass. It wasn’t exactly a hobby. But I was good at it. A man ought to be good at something.
When she was gone, the president climbed back into the front seat and took over the steering wheel. I wondered how much he would let her get away with before he slapped her himself. Quite a bit, probably. It’s a common failing with older dictators when they have younger wives.
In German, Perón said, “Don’t mind my wife, Herr Gunther. She doesn’t understand that you spoke from”—he slapped his stomach with the flat of his hand—“down here. You spoke as you felt you had to speak. And I’m flattered that you did so. We see something in each other, perhaps. Something important. Obeying other people is one thing. Any fool can do that. But obeying oneself, submitting oneself to the most rigid and implacable of disciplines, that is what is important. Is it not?”
Perón nodded. “So you are not a doctor. Therefore we cannot help you practice medicine. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
Meet the Author
Philip Kerr is the author of many novels, but perhaps most important are the five featuring Bernie GuntherA Quiet Flame, The One from the Other, and the Berlin Noir trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem). He lives in London and Cornwall, England, with his family.
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Book 5 in the Bernard Gunther series This fiction examines Directive 11, a secret order issued in 1938 that bared Jews from entering Argentina and the consequences that derived from it. It also explored the rumour and the strong possibility that a concentration camp existed in a remote part of the country. At the time thousands of Argentina's Jewish citizens had simply disappeared, never to be seen again. Coincidently, in later years, Argentina became a safe haven for Nazis in hiding. " A Quiet Flame ", opens in 1950 with private eye Bernie Gunther, now in fine form getting off the boat in Argentina. He is not alone; one of the other passengers is Adolf Eichmann. Both have changed their identities to avoid the consequences of their past and are trying to start a new life in a new country. It didn't take long before Bernie was fingered by President Peron's secret police, it turns out they had a file on him and knew about his past activities. They felt he could assist them in the political investigation of a child abduction and murder. Knowing he had no choice but to accept, he used the opportunity to gain medical treatment for his thyroid cancer. After reviewing the case he notices many similarities with unsolved cases he worked on back in early 30's Berlin, once again he finds himself forced to tread a delicate path. Gunther's work attracts the beautiful Anna Yagubshy who is desperately looking for help in finding her Jewish relatives who have disappeared; he is immediately drawn into a horror story that rivals everything from his past. The Peron period of Buenos Aires holds terrible secrets within its corrupt halls of power, one never knows whom to trust and danger is waiting at every corner. The stories move back and forth in time from Bernie's past early 30's Berlin to the turbulent time of post war Buenos Aires 1950. The depiction of the two eras is fascinating and captivating, it also gives a unique and intriguing view into the Nazi haven created during the time of President Peron. The characterization is superb and the players have depth. I like Gunther particularly; he is a compelling protagonist, an ex-SS "collaborator" with strong ethics. This novel never lags for thrilling and chilling suspense; it will grip you from the start. The sub-plots are as powerful as the main plot and contain many dead-ends and red herrings blended seamlessly creating a well-crafted work of fiction. I started with this novel and find it could easily stand alone but was left so intrigued and entertained by the protagonist adventures I feel impelled to read the author's previous works.
Bernie Gunther goes to Argentina shortly after WWII ended to escape war crimes prosecution. Of course Bernie was framed. Nevertheless he winds up fleeing with other famous Nazis to Peron's Argentina - a truly safe haven where Nazi are welcome. I did not realize the extent to which Argentina identified with the Nazis, or even supposedly carried out their own small scale (relatively) program of Jewish extermination. Kerr mixes in historical fact and a fictional detecting plot to put Bernie to work and in contact with all the top historical players from Eva Peron to Adolph Eichmann. This is a good mystery, a load of fun for Bernie Gunther fans, and great historical sidebars as well.
Bernie Gunther is at it again in this 5th Bernie Gunther series novel! This famous Berlin homicide detective is investigating a 1950 case in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that's intimately connected to one large and several connected cases in 1932 Berlin. The cases in both countries are ripe with terror and information that could end Bernie's career and life. Bernie, a sleuth well-respected by his Berlin peers, is asked to investigate the murder of a young girl found with her internal pelvic organs surgically and carefully removed. It's a vicious death, commonly referred to as a "lust" murder and it's not the first one Bernie's heard about. In fact, there's an amazing amount of child prostitution, abortion and these connected murders happening, a sign to Germany's up and coming Nazi party that Germany is in need of Adolph Hitler's political victory. In fact, Bernie seems throughout the novel to go out of his way to demonstrate how deeply he despises the Nazi party tactics of brutality and death against Jews, Communists, Gypsies, homosexuals and disabled men and women, even before Hitler takes power as the leader of Germany. That seems like an amazingly large agenda for the Nazi Party but it looks like Bernie's wishes aren't going to happen. He is repeatedly warned that in the coming days his attitude could make or break his police career. A few very violent and devastatingly intimidating experiences in the course of his investigative work foreshadow what Germany will be like in the not too distant future. When Bernie gets very close to solving the mystery, he is removed from the case and thinks it's time for him to consider other career options. But years later in 1950 Argentina, Bernie's in a different situation altogether. He's been forced to join the Nazi exiles in Peron's Argentina as a purported SS officer criminal whom the Allies would love to find, bring to trial and punish. That scenario, however, seems highly unlikely, although Bernie hints at unspeakable acts he was forced to commit as a member of the SS squad. However, his fame has followed him and he is asked by President Peron and his wife, the notorious Evita, to find out who committed a similar murder to that of the Berlin case and to find a missing young girl. Bernie knows the cases are linked but doesn't realize the extent of the obstacles that will be set to thwart his search and the complications arising from other requests to find missing persons. A Quiet Flame never lags for thrilling and chilling suspense that grips the reader's attention steadily and consistently. Philip Kerr is a writer who knows precisely how to build a case, provide subplots that are minor yet just as powerfully plotted as the main conflict, and present characters with enough depth of personality that is as much of a mystery as the events under investigation. It's a rare writer who can keep this balancing act moving and vibrantly credible. Philip Kerr does all so very, very well. This is a novel you absolutely must not miss and will want to share with family and friends for sure! Superb!!! Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on April 2,2009
Another great Bernie Gunther read. Highly recommended. I found this one to be much starker and more depraved than even his earlier books. Nazi influences in Argentina post WWII, detective work in Berlin on the eve of Nazi takeovers, a love interest and a betrayal. Highly entertaining and provocative.
Not the Argentina of Evita! A Quiet Flame is the 5th in the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr. If you've read the previous books, you won't be disappointed in this noir style detective novel featuring the wise cracking, irony quoting, anti-Nazi Bernie providing the atmospherics of both 1932 Berlin and 1950 Buenos Aries. You'll also know why he's now in Argentina. Chapters mostly alternate between the two periods, with the linkage being a murder supposedly committed in an identical manner in both locales. Why and how this manners is the basis for the twists and turns characteristic of this genre. Here, however, those plot twists unfold while we witness the impending disintegration of the Weimar Republic and the complicity of Argentina, and especially Juan and Evita Peron, with the Nazi cause. You'll gain new insights into those periods, especially that of Nazi haven Argentina, by an author who certainly knows his history.
Like Mr. Kerr's earlier books, this one gives you another chance to hear a Nazi war criminal justify their war time crimes. And, as you would expect, criminals are criminals whether they are at war or during peace. A good read.
This is a fascinating novel taking place as Hitler rises, and then following up after the war with life in Argentina. Bernie Gunther proves to be an adept detective, finding the real bad guys, as he struggles to save his own hide. Highly recommended.
This book series is well written, has great history, and I highly recommend it! Wish the romantic part of the plot wasn't as predictable over the course of the series. Otherwise no complaints!
the Bernie Gunther series are wonderful reads. do yourself a favor and read them all, kerr is a fabulous mystery writer and I wish the next was being written. I would be first in line to buy it.
Berlin detective, Bernie Gunther, flees Berlin for Argentina after being falsely accused of war crimes. Since he has the reputation of a great detective he is recruited there to find a missing girl before it is too late for her. He is reminded in the course of investigating of the old unsolved brutal murders he worked on in Berlin before the war and finds that this missing girl’s case could be linked with the past. After all, Argentina is harboring many men that tortured and murdered ruthlessly during the war. I have wanted to read something by Philip Kerr for awhile now, so I was happy when I won this giveaway. I enjoyed this plot and getting to know Bernie. There was so much mystery and suspense that I gave up trying to figure it out and just went with the flow. I appreciate that in a novel as I tend to figure stuff out quickly, which can lead to feeling deflated at the end. My only complaint would be that the transition between the past and present wasn’t smooth for me. I would forget if I was reading about Berlin or Argentina every once in awhile. Otherwise this story was an enjoyable experience and I will happily recommend it.