September 2009 Archives

Book Review: A Quiet Flame

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A Quiet Flame: A Bernie Gunther Mystery A Quiet Flame: A Bernie Gunther Mystery by Philip Kerr

My rating: ★★★✩✩

Perhaps the weakest Bernie Gunther mystery to date. The flashback style felt especially forced, for some reason. A few good lines, but once again, the web that ensnares Bernie just seems far too convoluted. Maybe I'm just not subtle enough, but the long range goal seems so unlikely in hindsight that it bugs me.

In this one, Bernie has just got off the boat in Argentina, where he was bound at the end of the previous book. He meets the Perons, both Evita and Juan, gets involved in counter spying on other Germans and, most especially, other ex-SS agents. He also gets tangled up with more Jewish refugees, including romantically. There are a few close calls, and the main disappearance mystery is solved in the end.

Speaking of the main mystery's solution, I hated it. It was both vastly unlikely as well as far too neat. Usually there are many strands in a Bernie Gunther book, and while there were several here too, they got all tied up in a manner that made me think Kerr just got tired of writing.

There was also far too much anti-Nazi speechifying. Yes, we all know how horrific it was, and must have been. And we know Bernie wasn't a Nazi, but man, he got strident about it. Maybe Kerr was trying to draw some modern parallels, but I prefer my private eyes to be more cynical and less strident.

The ending seems to have left open the possibility of more, but much like Lee Child's Reacher series, it all seems worn out by now. I hope Mr. Kerr stretches out again.

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A Quiet Flame
Philip Kerr

A Final Letter from Son to Father


My dad died on Sept. 19 after complications following his open heart surgery. Still a young, vital man at 73, he was a good friend, a wonderful father, and a superb role model. Last week was an awful week, but made survivable through the incomparable support of family, friends, neighbors and yes, even Internet buddies. Getting back on an even keel is going to be hard. Here's what I said, or at least tried to say, at his memorial service. Be sure to insert plenty of, shall we say, dramatic pauses.

Well, who would've thunk it – a boy from the mean streets of Hartford grows up to be an avid woodsman, hunter, fisherman and, yes, even farmer.

Growing up on the farm meant a never ending supply of stories. To this day, I can entertain city slickers at a dinner party for hours with stories of raising pigs, chickens, lambs, even bulls and, most entertainingly, turkeys. He wasn't afraid of anything and just figured it would work out in the end. And, of course, it usually did.

Dad loved his sports but within reason, unlike some of us who seem to have nothing in our wardrobes but team insignia gear. He took me to my first baseball game at Shea Stadium, sometime in the late 60s. And when, in 1986, I waited 4 days in line for the privilege of purchasing a single pair of tickets in the nosebleed section of the Fenway bleachers for World Series Game 4, there was never any doubt as to who was coming with me. I'm fairly certain there was a baseball game being played, but to this day I'm not sure how we ever got home. Must have been a very friendly cabbie. When I first heard the word that the Dodgers would be playing the Red Sox in Fenway, I immediately began planning how to get us a pair of Monster seats. At least we'd know one of his teams would win.

Dad loved to fish and a particularly vivid memory of the farm is of him and I donning long sleeve shirts, long pants, hats, spraying ourselves with both Deep Woods Off and even RAID, then heading out into the back 60 to fish our little trout brook. He always looked back fondly on the days of surfcasting while living on Cape Cod, although he never taught me the trick to actually catching a fish from the ocean. The day of “pickle” fishing with my daughters and their Papa on Pushaw Lake last summer will forever be a treasured memory of mine and, I think, the girls too.

But it was hunting where we bonded the most. From the earliest memories as a kid of long drives to Maine, trying to find a spot under a bed to sleep to avoid getting stepped on, marathon games of 31, early cold mornings and walking behind my Dad, waiting for the cherished moment when he would finally let me carry his gun. And of course, making him leave the woods early because my feet would get cold, a harbinger of times when it would be reversed, as he hated to wear the “gunga boots” that would keep his feet warm.

Later, I would get my own gun, do my own walking, and finally bring down my own deer, and it made it even sweeter that we used his tag for it. There were many cold mornings, warm lunches and tall tales spun. It will be very strange and sad this fall, as I've never been hunting without him before.

He really showed his balance as a father. While Dad had many great qualities as a father, including honesty, consistency and interest, if there is one trait of his I would want to have as a father myself, it was his uncanny ability to balance advice with support. If you wanted advice, he'd be happy to give it and you could be sure it would be honest and useful. You would then be free to make you own decisions and suffer your own consequences. And whether you followed his advice or not, he was always there to help. If you succeeded, he would be in the front row of the cheering section. If you failed, he would be among the first to help you up, dust you off and get you moving again. I had plenty of failures, usually directly attributable to not following his advice. Whenever I think about it, the wonderful quote from the ever accurate Mark Twain comes to mind:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. - Mark Twain

Pabs, you are going to be missed but I have you pictured in my mind's eye sitting back in a place where the sun is blazing and the martinis are ice cold. In other words, Paradise.

Friday Random 10 for Sept. 18

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  1. Sruti - The Dry Spells (Too Soon For Flowers 2009)
  2. Don't Take Me Alive - Steely Dan (The Royal Scam 1976)
  3. Cover Me - Bruce Springsteen (Born In The USA 1984)
  4. Locomotive Breath - Jethro Tull (Aqualung 1973)
  5. Sorrow Floats - Voice of the Beehive (Let It Bee 1988)
  6. Wildflower Song - Lui Collins (Baptism of Fire 1980)
    Wildflower Song
    Lui Collins
  7. 23 - Blonde Redhead (23 2007)
  8. Fly Me Away - Goldfrapp (Supernature 2006)
  9. Possessed - The Silencers (A Letter From St. Paul 1987)
  10. Loaded - Primal Scream (Screamdelica 1991)

Wow, some oldie but goodies in today's randomizer. We start off with a brand new one from The Dry Spells' wonderful debut CD, but then we follow it up with a bunch from the 70s and 80s, including some big names like Steely Dan, Jethro Tull and Bruce Springsteen, some great 80s new wave with Voice of the Beehive and The Silencers (and one of my favorite CDs from the 80s), a classic New Wave pop song from Primal Scream, and we move into this century with a couple of great songs from Goldfrapp and Blonde Redhead. And thrown into the mix is folky Lui Collins. Good times!

Friday Random 10 for Sept 11

  1. Sold Me Down The River - The Alarm (Change 1989)
  2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! - The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967)
  3. I'm So Afraid - Fleetwood Mac (Fleetwood Mac 1975)
  4. 999,999 - Nine Inch Nails (The Slip 2009)
  5. If There's A Heaven Above (Canada Mix) - Love and Rockets (Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven 1986)
  6. Crushed - Cocteau Twins (Lonely Is An Eyesore 1987)
  7. All Mixed Up - The Cars (The Cars 1978)
  8. Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution - AC/DC (Back in Black 1980)
  9. Olympia - Lush (Lovelife 1996)
  10. The Devil's Eye - The Go-Betweens (16 Lovers Lane 1988)

From way back to just back, this week's Random 10 reaches into the mists of time, save for the NiN song from the freely downloadable "album", The Slip. Hard to believe Lush's last CD is already 13 years old - it's a brilliant one too. And speaking of brilliant, perhaps the best CD of the mid-80s, 16 Lovers Lane is represented, as is its emotional antecedent group, Fleetwood Mac. And no, I didn't pick up any of the newly mastered Beatles CDs, but Sgt. Pepper showed up nonetheless. Some more new wave goodness with The Alarm and, like the last one, Love and Rockets again. We got some real headbanging rock-n-roll with AC/DC, some old timey Boston rock with The Cars, and a 4AD classic with the Cocteau Twins.

Speaking of music, picked up two new CDs yesterday. Rodrigo y Gabriela's followup to their incredible "debut", called 11:11, and the latest from indie rock legends Yo La Tengo, ironically (?) titled Popular Songs. Both get 4 thumbs way way up.

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