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Book Review: Brenner And God by Wolf Haas

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If you haven’t heard of the insanely talented and clever Wolf Haas, it’s probably because you speak English and live in America. One of the best-selling crime fiction authors in Germany and other German speaking countries, as well as Europe, he is best known for his books featuring Simon Brenner – think of Brenner as the German Adrian Monk…sort of – three of which have been made into films ;Komm, süßer Tod (Come Sweet Death), Silentium! and Der Knochenmann (The Boneman). He has won several prizes for his works, including winning the German prize for crime fiction (Deutscher Krimipreis) three times.

Brenner and God (Melville International Crime) is the seventh in the series and the first of his books translated into English. Haas’ protagonist, private eye Simon Brenner, shows strong similarities to the lonely hero of the hard-boiled novel of Chandler and Hammett.

Structurally, Haas also follows the model of the hard-boiled thriller. In contrast to the analytical detective story of Sherlock Holmes and the “cozy” English style of Agatha Christie,which emphasizes the power of logic and deduction, Brenner’s method of investigation involve him deeply into the criminal activities suggesting that crime is not the exception in society but rather the rule.

The conjunctive relationship between crime and crime scene also emphasizes the novels’ critical agenda, and a satirical and cynical criticism of Austrian and German society is very much a part of the plot, just as Chandler, Hammett and the other great American hard-boiled writers had an indictment of our society at heart.

Read an excerpt


 

 

Brenner and God finds Brenner, an ex-police investigator, now a burned-out shell of a man, seeking a peaceful career as the personal chauffeur for two-year-old Helena, the daughter of a Munich construction magnate and a Viennese abortion doctor. Brenner, who never thought of himself as a man who liked small children, finds himself during the long commutes with Helena growing quite fond of her and even looking forward to, and cherishing his duty.

Then one day, he finds himself, uncharacteristically unprepared for his simple job as Helena’s driver. He starts the long commute low on gas and with no treats for his charge. At a gas station, while Brenner’s attention is diverted by the usual losers that hang out at gas stations and by picking out a chocolate bar for Helena (Brenner’s private, and as he sees it, harmless rebellion against the wishes of Helena’s parents. Helena is forbidden chocolate and sugary treats).

The little girl gets snatched from the car – kidnapped. And with very few clues as to the kidnappers’ motive or identity. Her father is not the most popular man as he has made many enemies rising to the top of the construction and business world – environmentalists, competitors, bankers and politicians. Then again, Helena’s mother has drawn the ire of the anti-abortion crowd who in their religious zealtry are not above violence and crime.

Now out of a job, Brenner decides to investigate her disappearance on his own. Dreadinng his re-entrance into that world of investigating he thought he’d left behind, he has to come to grips with his own reluctance as well as the low-life’s and dangerous, mean streets he must walk. Unraveling both parents lives, and their myriad array of enemies, Brenner enters a world of high finance and religious zealotry. Along the way he encounters a dubious and quirky cast of characters: there are Viennese politicians, bankers, and real estate magnates, anti-abortion protestors, angry landlords, cheating wives and husbands and enough spousal secrets to fill a cast in many soap operas and they are all implicated in the kidnapping.

Told in a playful and humorous style reminiscent of Fredric Brown in novels such The Screaming Mimi, where the story is told in a very droll, off-handed voice by an unidentified narrator. The story is told with a wry sense of humor and in a detached, conversational way that has won the admiration of readers around the world and has thankfully now come to the American reader.

Haas writes with a dark humor that leaves no character, including Brenner, unscathed. Brenner, once respected as a top notch police investigator, struggles through the many noir-ish motives, settings and characters and often wanders down dangerous dead-ends, which Haas uses to display the social issues of a now multi-ethnic Eurozone. They are surprisingly, many of the same issues familiar to the American reader.

Melville House International Crime, who supplied this review copy, has done a wonderful job bringing the treasures of International crime writers to an American audience. Wolf Haas, along with fellow International super stars such as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, derek Raymond, Andrey Kurkov, Jakob Arjouni and Mukoma Wa Ngugi are much welcomed additions to the crime fiction reader and serve to show that crime, and the social issues that surround it are not an American exclusive.

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I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.