A Kayankaya Thriller
To rescue a kidnapped prostitute, Kemal Kayankaya must face some of Germany’s most depraved and dangerous criminals. Fortunately, some of them are his friends. . . .
Hard-boiled prose, lean, clean dialogue, hard bitten as Sam Spade, cynically cool as Philip Marlowe. Kemal Kayankaya is a worthy successor to the great noir characters and hard boiled detectives of the past. This isn’t a parody or a cheap imitation, Jakob Arjouni has created the real thing. Beautiful!
Jakob Arjouni tells a tale that could have come off of the mean streets of Chandler’s Los Angles or Hammet’s San Francisco, or Chicago or New York or Boston but it takes place in Frankfurt, Germany – the dullest town in Germany, except it isn’t. One Man, One Murder was originally written in 1991 as Ein Mann, ein Mord. Melville International Crime provided me with this Galley of the translation and after reading it, it’s jumped to the top of the list of ‘Best Surprise Book’ of the year. In an original voice, Arjouni tells such a true story and he tells it so well, maintaining tension throughout, dialogue that is clever, witty, and sad and an atmosphere that James M. Cain would have been proud of.
Kemal Kayankaya is the orphaned son of a Turkish garbage collector, a German Citizen, born and bred. But, because he is of Turkish extraction he encounters suspicion and racism wherever he goes. He meets them with a smart assed attitude and a cynical, jaded tongue.
A piece of dialog while Kemal is trying to rent an office:
“Well then, Mr. Kayankaya, I see you are a private investigator. That’s an interesting name…Kayankaya.” “Not really that interesting. Just Turkish.” I see.” The saccharine content of his smile increases; his eye slits are no wider than a razor’s edge.”Turkish. A Turkish private investigator? What do you know…I hope you don’t mind my asking, but – how come you speak such good German?” “It’s the only language I know. My parents died when I was a child, and I was raised by a German family.” “But – but you are a Turk? I mean —“ “ I have a German passport, if that makes you feel better.”…..”Mind showing it to me?”
And this from when he meets his new client:
“How did you find me? “ He looked startled….”You must have checked the Yellow Pages. But why Kayankaya, why not Muller?” “Because she is Thai, and I thought…” “You thought Thailand and Turkey both start with a ‘T’?” “How could I have known you’re a Turk? On the contrary, I expected – but…”
…They visit exhibitions in New York and go on safaris in Africa: they smoke hashish in Cairo, eat Japanese food, and purpose to teach democracy to Muscovites; they are “international” down to their Parisian underwear – but they are not able to recognize a Turk unless he is carrying a garbage can under his arm and leading a string of ten unwashed brats.
This book would have worked so well as just a comic take on the American Hardboiled detective transplanted to Europe in the late 80’s; as a cynical updating of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but Arjouni had loftier goals. And he achieved them in spades. Sam Spades. It is Arjouni’s willingness to confront serious social issues and display them in the light of a hardboiled/noir novel, with an avoidance of clichés, intelligent observation, and dialog that is both realistic and acid-tinged. And to do it all without preaching. He kind of reminds me of the great Walter Mosley in that regard.
Another piece of dialog where Kayankaya channels Sam Spade in his violent reaction:
“What’s your name, nigger?” So, I said to myself, this must be their guy with the communications skills.I took the cigarette out of my mouth and studied its glowing tip for a moment. His beery breath struck my face. I looked at him and said very quietly: “Listen, pig. Another word out of you, and I’ll see to it that you won’t be able to stand up, sit down, or fuck – ever again.”
And then a few seconds later, he switches to the cynical humor:
(Mrs. Steiner, a bureaucratic receptionist who has just refused to serve or speak to Kayankaya because he appears to be a minority gives an explanation and then Kayankaya says…) “If you are not telling me the truth…” “I beg your pardon…” Despite her obvious fear that our argument might turn into a free for all, Mrs. Steiner looked indignant. “ I am a civil servant!”
This particular story opens when Kayankaya takes on a new client, Herr Weidenbusch, who has discovered that love is never roses and springtime when your girlfriend is a Thai immigrant that has been kidnapped by a gang of pimps. This isn’t the first time either, and the simpering Weidenbusch, with his pink eyeglasses and colorful wrist watches, who rebels against his mother at the age of 40 or so, wants to get her back. He has “paid her debt” to the brothel that sponsored her, and paid for a fake passport so that Weidenbusch can marry her, and now they apparently want more. Kayankaya recognizes a name from the place where Sri Dao Rakdee worked. “The Lady Bump”, a shady bar and house of prostitution in Frankfurt’s “Eros Center’. Slibulsky is a low life, depraved and shady criminal, a degenerate gambler no loyalty and a broken arm. He just blew a fifty thousand mark inheritance at a roulette table and is working off a further debt to the owner of the establishment. He is also a ‘friend’ of Kayankaya. The kind of friend you hope the other guy has. But Slibulsky has his ear to the ground of the Frankfurt underground and soon opens some doors to dark places where Kayankaya seeks Sri Dao.
Along the way Kayankaya encounters deadly crime bosses, indifferent and crooked cops, violent muscle men, a landlord who wants his money, an illegal immigrant ring that sells the hopefuls fake visas and then disposes of them – the hopefuls, not the visas, a miasma of bureaucratic and social injustice and racial prejudice that mirrors Americas own. The air of contemporary Europe’s racial politics and inane nationalism are the maze that Kayankaya navigates in his quest but he is well equipped with a sharp mind, a sharper tongue and meets these challenges with a cynical, smart-assed attitude and an anti-authority front. There are enough seeming dead ends, as almost any detective novel requires, but instead of having them …dead end, Arjouni has them turn into very interesting ‘small mysteries’ or stories inside the story. Arjouni is a consummate professional. His prose are efficient with a minimalists approach that Hemingway would love, but not so minimalist that he doesn’t manage to fully develop the characters without using stock, stereotypes, and he makes them way too real. He also paints scenes both colorful and dark about the underbelly of a city and maintains a pace that lingers just enough in all the right places.
The only criticism I have for this otherwise master work is that it took to damn long to get it translated and released in English. Well, Melville International Crime has fixed that, and thank you very much.
The Dirty Lowdown
Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved