I don’t remember buying this book, but I was reminded I owned it when my good friend, the reader of True Blood (!) who I’ve mentioned before, pointed me in the direction of a BBC Radio 4 programme called Foreign Bodies. In this programme Mark Lawson presents a history of modern Europe through literary detectives and one of the episodes showcased Jakob Arjouni (still available as a podcast). The name rang bells, so with an ear on the radio I ran upstairs to one of our bookcases and found More Beer hiding on my German lit shelf (more half a shelf than a full shelf). I’m not sure how it survived several book culls, but it did, and I’m glad.
More Beer is a crime story written in 1987 and set at that time in and around Frankfurt, featuring private detective Kemal Kayankaya, a German of Turkish origin. The story revolves around a group of 4 ecological activists accused of and standing trial for the sabotage of a waste pipe belonging to a major chemical plant and the murder of its Managing Director. Although their lawyer realises there is no doubt of the sabotage charge, he is sure the group did not commit the murder. There is evidence that there was a fifth member of the group, but no one will talk about this person, least of all the 4 accused, but the fifth saboteur may hold the key to the murder. Kayankaya is engaged by the lawyer to investigate the case and to find the elusive eco-activist. Of course, it’s never as straight forward as you might think and his snooping uncovers political and police corruption, as well as family lies and shame.
This is not a long book, but it is fast paced and despite the complexity of the plot, it is fairly straight forward to follow. If you visit this blog regularly you will have noticed the banner at the top depicting the Chandler novels bound in ribbon, further reading will reveal the story behind the photo, but suffice to say, I love a bit of crime noir and this book is jet black. I was reminded of the Marlowe books when I re-read More Beer. Kayankaya is an outsider and like Marlowe, a loner, not only because of his job, but because of his ethnicity. I have to admit that I was a little sickened at the level of racism the Kayankaya character encountered – I thought Germany in 1987 was more tolerant, but clearly not. Like Marlowe, Kayankaya gets himself so involved with the case that nothing else matters, even when he is thrown off the job or beaten up, he has a dogged determination to see it through and to find out the perpetrator, even if knowing the answer is for his own satisfaction. It is almost as if he wants to feel the pain, both physical and mental, that goes with finding out the truth. He also trusts no one, not even his client and rightly so. He’s seemingly the only character who treats the women in the story with respect – probably out of fear for what they may do to him more than anything else, but still he keeps them at arm’s length without being disrespectful. He is a heavy drinker (cognac for breakfast anyone?) and smoker and once on the trail of an answer works and thinks about it 24/7. Very Marlowe.
Jakob Arjouni has written a few other books featuring Kayankaya, but I haven’t read any of them, and unfortunately this one isn’t currently available from No Exit Press, but if you stumble upon it in a second-hand shop or at the library, it’s worth giving a go. Pacy, engaging and surprisingly not that dated.
If you would like another view of More Beer here’s what Guy over at His Futile Preoccupations had to say about it last year.
I read this as part of German Lit Month (officially finished on 30th Nov, but we were all given an extension – which feels like being let off your homework). The extension worked quite well for me as although I finished More Beer a while ago, I felt a bit ropey last week and so didn’t get this posted.
I have only one more book review to post this year – a book I finished some time ago and really should have posted a review of by now. I think I will then have a December break from reviewing before hitting 2013 nice and refreshed!