Wednesday, August 15, 2012

REVIEW: Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni

Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni. Published 2011 by Melville House.
Crime Fiction. Translation.

So I guess this is unofficially Melville House International Crime week; I'm trying to catch up on my crime fiction reviews and it just so happens a bunch of them are from the terrific publishing house and its fun International Crime line, which includes books from all over the world including crime writers that are very successful worldwide and little-known inside the U.S. Melville hopes this will change and so do I!

Today I want to tell you about the fab Jakob Arjouni and the first book in his Inspector Kemal Kayankaya series, Happy Birthday, Turk! Set in Frankfurt, Germany, the book covers the investigation into the murder of a Turkish immigrant in a seedy part of town. Kemal Kayankaya, a private investigator and himself an ethnic Turk raised by a German family, takes the case after the deceased's wife comes to him. Kayankaya, culturally German but marked out as different in a society valuing conformity and order, is in a difficult position both with the Turkish family he's trying to help and the German authorities he needs to both utilize and avoid to solve the case.

The case brings him into contact with drug users and dealers, prostitutes and pimps, as well as a thoroughly conventional retired German cop who helps him with information. What I loved about this book, and what distinguishes it from other crime novels and procedurals I've read lately, is Arjouni's hysterical sense of humor. I must have laughed once on every page- at least. A favorite passage, about dinner at the cop's house as Kayankaya tries to play nice:
The Löffs' dining room looks like the showroom of a plastics factory, a space designed for messy little kids. The pale yellow walls are adorned with recipes encased in plastic. The chairs and the dining table are bright orange, and he floor is covered with dark green linoleum. Our place mats were washable plastic. All it needed was an open drain, and the place could have been cleaned with the garden hose.

Mrs. Löff shoveled sausages, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut onto my plate. I twisted the tops off two bottles of beer.

There were a great many half-raw chunks in the homemade mashed potatoes. But they were homemade.

"You can really tell this isn't that instant stuff."

Mrs. Löff thanked me for the compliment.
And so on. After several beatings, a gas attack and  uncovering some corruption, he solves the case, but not in the way I expected. That's another thing I liked about the book- the bittersweet twist ending. I have three more books in this series on deck and I would definitely recommend it to noir/crime readers looking for something off the beaten path. It takes place in the same kind of seedy underworld as many noirs but the specific geographic and cultural location, not to mention the humor, make it different too. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Arjouni's world and hope to return soon!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

I do like the humor as well, and think that you gave a real and accurate picture of what is so intriguing about this book. I am grateful that you are reviewing these little known titles, as I wouldn't be exposed to many of them without having stopped by. I haven't tried much noir or crime fiction, so this is a really valuable find to me. Thanks for this interesting and funny review. This is one to seek out!