Written by Jakob Arjouni — As previously reported on Crime Fiction Lover, German author Jakob Arjouni died in January from pancreatic cancer, aged just 48. He was a leading literary figure in Germany, and one of the first there to write in the private detective sub-genre. His novels featuring Frankfurt PI Kemal Kayankaya have received considerable critical acclaim, selling over a million copies worldwide.
Though not prolific, with only five novels in the series published over 25 years, Arjouni was able to match and even transcend his influences – he cited both Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Foreign Bodies series – by using Kayankaya’s status as the son of Turkish immigrants to explore contemporary European issues including immigration and the fall of communism.
In Brother Kemal, we find Kayankaya enjoying a period of professional and personal success. His investigative and body-guarding work is bringing in steady income and he has moved in with his partner Deborah, an ex-prostitute who now runs a bar. The detective is even considering becoming a father. Then two cases crop up, which might just be connected.
The first is a request to find a missing schoolgirl called Marieke de Chavannes. She’s the daughter of the beautiful and flirtatious Valerie and famous painter Edgar Hasselbaink. Valerie suspects Marieke has gone off with Erden Abakay, a photographer who has recently gotten to know the family. However, Kayankaya is suspicious that Erden and Valerie might have had an affair. A little digging reveals Erden to be the nephew of Sheikh Hakim, a hardline Islamic preacher whom the Frankfurt police believe to be a major heroin importer.
Kayankaya breaks into Erden’s flat to a shocking discovery. A dead German man is lying on the floor, naked. He’s been stabbed in the heart, and Marieke is cowering in the bedroom, naked, covered in vomit, and seemingly intoxicated. A search of the flat turns up some heroin, and evidence that Erden is a pimp for under-age girls. When Erden returns, Kayankaya knocks him out, handcuffs him to the radiator, and stabs him several times superficially with a kitchen knife. He completes the frame by calling a police contact. Complications arise when the police discover inconsistencies at the scene and let Erden go free, leaving Kayankaya to deal with the criminal… and his uncle.
At the same time, Kayankaya has accepted a body-guarding job for a visiting author, Malik Rashid. He’s in town for the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, and the author’s latest novel has enraged religious fanatics with its portrayal of Muslim homosexuality.
Kemal Kayankaya’s story is written in the first person, and he emerges as a very engaging protagonist. He shares the outsider status of the classic PIs, but his skepticism of others never turns to cynicsm. His sense of humour is endearing, with his persistent requests to see Malik Rashid hate mail – which he rightly suspects is a publicity stunt – a particular highlight. The book’s themes of immigration, religious intolerance and the difficulties of successful assimilation are deftly explored but avoid dogma.
Brother Kemal is a fitting end to a great series and No Exit Press, the British publisher, has also republished the four prior novels in the series.
No Exit Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars