Kismet (Kemal Kayankaya Series #4)

Kismet (Kemal Kayankaya Series #4)

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by Jakob Arjouni

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“Kemal Kayankaya is the ultimate outsider among hard-boiled private eyes.”
—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

As a Turkish immigrant raised by Germans, he's regularly subjected to racism in the gritty, working-class city, and getting work isn't easy.

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“Kemal Kayankaya is the ultimate outsider among hard-boiled private eyes.”
—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

As a Turkish immigrant raised by Germans, he's regularly subjected to racism in the gritty, working-class city, and getting work isn't easy. So when his friend Romario asks Kayankaya to protect him against thugs demanding protection money from his restaurant business, the down-and-out Kayankaya takes the job.

Except these are no ordinary thugs. They turn out to be battle-hardened Croatian nationalists looking to take over the rackets in Frankfurt, and they do not take kindly to Kayankaya's interference with their plans. But try as he might, Kayankaya just can't seem to stay out of their way …

What ensues is a brilliant novel about organized crime, immigration, the fallout from the Balkan wars, and the madness of nationalism from one of Europe's finest crime writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Jakob Arjouni's Kismet is another of this surprising writer's wonderfully odd crime novels. Amid murders and explosions, for example, it contains this timeless immigrant's refrain:

"…every year I have to go and beg to be allowed to stay another year. …I sit in that waiting room with all the other poor fools who've cleaned their shoes and put on clean shirts…. when your turn finally comes you're just a crumpled, stinking Thing and you'd almost agree with Herr Muller or Herr Meier if he looked at you as if to say, what's a pathetic creature like you doing in our lovely country?"

This could be 19th-century Vienna. It is instead today's Germany, vividly and bleakly depicted in the latest novel in Arjouni's investigator Kayankaya series.

Arjouni, like Kemal Kayankaya, his not-so-hardboiled protagonist, is a German of Turkish origin. And like Kayankaya, he is also a mischievous subversive who delights in confounding easy assumptions -- xenophobic or liberal -- about his or any other immigrant's ethnicity. "…the Islamic scholar had picked me from the yellow pages on account of my name," Kayankaya observes of one German client, "and of course when we first met she had explained to me at length what the Turks were like, myself included. Industrious, proud…secret rulers of Asia -- in short, I was a whole great nation in myself."

Arjouni's tone throughout the Kayankaya series is breezily cynical and his plots straightforward, although usually spiked with a subtle twist. In Kismet, the novel in which Arjouni first introduces the detective, and which is newly available to American readers in this paperback edition from Melville House, Kayankaya is hired to scare off gangsters who are extorting protection money from a Brazilian restaurant owner in Frankfurt. When the plan goes bloodily wrong, Kayankaya finds himself confronting a sinister organization, "The Army of Reason," that emerged out of the Balkan wars and that threatens to disrupt Frankfurt's diverse organized crime scene. "You had the feeling that a kind of criminal Olympic Games was going on in the Frankfurt station district," Kayankaya observes of the city's competing international gangs. He must also find a Bosnian woman who has apparently been kidnapped by the criminal newcomers.

With its snappy dialogue and rumpled heroes, Arjouni's crime fiction owes an obvious debt to American noir but it is equally reminiscent of many Eastern European satirical novels. The plot of Kismet may recall any number of gangster romps, but the society so caustically depicted here is as recognizable as that conjured up, for instance, by Jaroslav Hasek in The Good Soldier Schweik. Entering a bar in the dreary town of Offenbach, for example, the laconic Kayankaya observes of the drinkers, "Most of them were around fifty and looked as if they had always been, as if they'd always been hanging around in bars and only went out now and then to get cheap suits and haircuts." Two killers who are stalking Kayankaya walk with "...those long, confident everybody-listen strides that Berliners have…"

The violence too, although occasionally cartoonish, is described with cinematic clarity but often shaded with rueful afterthoughts. "If two men die and everything's still the same as before, or worse, then something's wrong." Kayankaya reflects after the carnage of the novel's opening scene, "Or I could have put it to myself more simply: I wished I hadn't shot anyone." Neither he, nor his creator Arjouni, lets this hero off the hook.

--Anna Mundow

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Product Details

Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
Kemal Kayankaya Series, #4
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

JAKOB ARJOUNI was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1964, the son of acclaimed German playwright Hans Gunter Michelson. He wrote numerous books, including the novels Chez Max and Magic Hoffmann, which was shortlisted for the IMPAC Award. But it is for his series of five mysteries featuring the Turkish immigrant detective Kemal Kayankaya for which he became best known. Bestsellers throughout Europe and the winner of the German Thriller Prize, they have also been turend into wildly popular movies in his home country. Arjouni died from pancreatic cancer at age forty-eight in January 2013.

Anthea Bell is the recipient of the Schlegel Tieck Prize for translation from German, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize in 2002 for the translation of W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz, and the 2003 Austrian State Prize for Literary Translation. She lives in Cambridge, England.

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