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.
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.
Hard-boiled detective fans should welcome German author Arjouni's U.S. debut, the fourth book in his popular series (Happy Birthday, Turk! etc.) featuring Kemal Kayankaya, a wisecracking Turkish immigrant PI. When a ruthless gang calling itself the Army of Reason demands 6,000 marks a month from a Frankfurt restaurateur acquaintance of Kemal's, Kemal and his sidekick, Slibulsky, wind up in a gun battle that leaves two thugs dead. In 2001, the year this novel was first published, Balkan refugees were streaming into Frankfurt. Kemal must deal with Croatians trying to move in on territory already divided among German, Albanian, and Turkish bosses as well as searching for a wealthy woman's lost dog and protecting an all too worldly 14-year-old Bosnian girl. While Kemal lacks charm, this entry will whet readers' appetite for the three earlier Kayankaya mysteries. (Oct.)
Praise for Kismet
“As winning a noirish gumshoe as has swooped onto the mystery scene in some time.” —Richard Lipez, The Washington Post
“In the emphasis on action and quck-jab dialogue, readers will notice an echo of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler, but Arjouni’s stories also brim with the absurd humor that made The Sopranos so entertaining.” —Vikas Turakhia, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Jakob Arjouni’s downbeat detective Kemel Kayankaya has proved as enigmatic as Columbo, as erudite as Marlowe and occasionally, as crazed as Hammett’s Continental Op . . . Arjouni forges both a gripping caper and a haunting indictment of the madness of nationalism, illuminated by brilliant use of language: magnificent.” —The Guardian
“This lively, gripping book sets a high standard for the crime novel as the best of modern literature.” —The Independent
“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.” —Anna Mudow, The Barnes & Noble Review
“Re-imagines the dull capital of the German financial industry as an urban hell where minority groups and crime bosses prey on one another with ruthless abandon.” —The Daily Beast
“If you like your investigators tough and sassy, Kayankaya is your guide.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“This is true hardboiled detective fiction, realistic, violent and occasionally funny, with a hero who lives up to the best traditions of the genre.” —The Daily Telegraph
Praise for One Man, One Murder
“Kemal Kayankaya is the ultimate outsider among hard-boiled private eyes.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“A zippy, deliciously dirty tour of legal fleshpots and low-down scams victimizing illegal aliens . . . Plotted with verve and written with passion.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The book is as hard-boiled as private eye stories come.” —The Toronto Star
Praise for Happy Birthday, Turk!
“The greatest German mystery since World War II.” —Süddeutsche (Germany)
International Praise for Jacob Arjouni’s Kayankaya novels
“A worthy grandson of Marlowe and Spade.” —Der Stern (Germany)
“Jakob Arjouni writes the best urban thrillers since Raymond Chandler.” —Tempo (UK)
“A genuine storyteller who beguiles his readers without the need of tricks.” —L’Unità (Italy)
“Arjouni is a master of authentic background descriptions and an original story teller.” —SonntagsZeitung (Germany)
“Arjouni tells real-life stories, and they virtually never have a happy ending. He tells them so well, with such flexible dialogue and cleverly maintained tension, that it is impossible to put his books down.” —El País (Spain)
“His virtuosity, humor and feeling for tension are a ray of hope in literature on the other side of the Rhine.” —Actuel (France)
“Pitch-black noir.” —La Depeche (France)
Established racketeering in Frankfurt—fairly peacefully divided among German, Albanian, and Turkish crime bosses—is upset when the mysterious Army of Reason suddenly starts asking business owners for exorbitant sums and lopping off their thumbs when demands aren't met. After restaurateur Romario becomes a victim, he turns to PI Kemal Kayankaya for help. His plan to scare off the Army of Reason, carried out with friend Silbulsky, turns into a shoot-out that leaves two extortionists dead, Kayankaya scratching to trace the new crime organization, more people killed and buildings blown up in retribution, and another country vying for a piece of the Frankfurt crime action. Winner of the German Thriller Prize and best sellers in Europe, Arjouni's four-book series featuring the wisecracking PI of Turkish descent who's not above using bribery and lies and calling on sources inside and outside the law to get what he needs is now being released in the United States for the first time. VERDICT Germany is a roiling melting pot in Arjouni's noir fiction with a light touch. A good bet for readers of the genre. [This title launches the publisher's new Melville International Crime imprint, previewed in Wilda Williams's "Passport to Mystery," LJ 4/15/10.—Ed.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA
…lthis ethnic-Turk-in-Frankfurt moral scourge is as winning a noirish gumshoe as has swooped onto the mystery scene in some time. I can say "swooped" because Kayankaya is nimble in spite of being "old and fat."
The Washington Post
A routine shakedown leads Frankfurt PI Kemal Kayankaya (One Death to Die, 1997, etc.) to a maze of slimy, violent crooks. The Saudade Restaurant doesn't do enough business for Romario, its owner, to pay a protection fee of 6,000 Deutschemarks per month. So after losing his thumb to a pair of tough guys who say they're from the Army of Reason, Romario gets Kayankaya and his buddy Slibulsky-the ice-cream man whose resume includes work as a bouncer and bodyguard-to protect him from the protectors. The result is a bloodbath that doesn't end until the Saudade is reduced to ashes. And it doesn't really end even then, because Kayankaya won't let the case die. Convinced that Dr. Michael Ahrens, the soup king whose BMW was obligingly parked outside the restaurant, is behind the racket, he digs in his heels. So does Ahrens, and there's a stalemate until Kayankaya, who's already got one client whose dog he's being paid to find, takes another, a teenaged refugee named Leila, who wants him to find her mother while Leila perfects her German by reading pornography. Despite the jocular mood, no story involving so many sordid felonies can end happily, and this one doesn't. The plot is full of holes and awkward shifts as Kayankaya hurtles from one nest of vipers to the next. But even apart from the obligatory anti-Turkish episode, the unsavory atmosphere is inimitable.