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happy birthday, türke!

20 july 2015

The late Jakob Arjouni was a prodigy on the German detective-fiction scene. His first novel, Happy Birthday, Türke! appeared when he was just 21. Arjouni was a quick learner. By osmosis or application – both, probably – he internalized the conventions of the private-eye novel at a very early age.

In Happy Birthday, Türke! our narrator and hero is Kemal Kayankaya, a twenty-something private eye, Turkish by birth and German by adoption. He gets 200 marks a day plus expenses, carries a 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster, and drinks far too much whiskey. The widow of a Turkish laborer hires Kayankaya when the police don't seem too concerned about her husband's murder. Kayankaya starts his investigation in true Lew Archer fashion by asking a bunch of snarky questions of a bunch of hard-bitten, evasive people.

The dead man's mother-in-law suggests that he killed himself. Considering he was stabbed in the back, this seems unlikely, but the idea is just crazy enough to have a glimmer of truth. Why would a hard-working family man descend into the louche, drug-ridden nightlife of Frankfurt-am-Main? Would it surprise you that the Ergün/Hamel family has some nasty secrets?

Or that the cops assigned the Hamel murder case might be more corrupt than negligent, or that Kayankaya has a gruff elder mentor who tries to steer him clear of gaucherie with mixed success, or that a hooker with a heart of gold (who utters the title greeting) gives our hero some key clues and some complimentary services?

Maybe not, but if Happy Birthday, Türke! is formulaic, it's also crisp, plot-oriented, and action-packed. You could do much worse if you wanted a hard-boiled evening or two.

Arjouni, Jakob. Happy Birthday, Türke!. 1985. Zürich: Diogenes, 1987.

Danish title: Happy birthday, tyrker!
English title: Happy Birthday, Turk!
French title: Bonne fête, le Turc!
Italian title: Happy Birthday, turco!

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