Valerie de Chavannes, a financier’s daughter, summons private investigator Kemal Kayankaya to her villa in Frankfurt’s diplomatic quarter and commissions him to find her missing sixteen-year-old daughter Marieke. She is alleged to be with an older man who is posing as an artist. To Kayankaya, it seems like a simple case: an upper class girl with a thirst for adventure. Then another case turns up: The Maier Publishing House believes it needs to protect author Malik Rashid from attacks by religious fanatics at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Rashid has written a novel about, amongst other things, attitudes towards homosexuality in an Arabic country. Kayankaya is hired to be Rashid’s bodyguard for three days. The two cases seem to be straightforward, but together they lead to murder, rape and abduction, and even Kayankaya comes under suspicion of being a contract killer for hire.
I’m sure, like many crime fiction fans, the announcement of the tragically early death of Jakob Arjouni this year was a source of sadness to us all. I have derived a great deal of reading pleasure from Arjouni’s wonderful Kemal Kayankaya series, featuring this unconventional, straight-talking and supremely witty Turkish private investigator, formed from the same clay as the stalwarts of the hard-boiled crime tradition. So it is now with some sadness that I now review the last of the series, Brother Kemal…
Tasked with finding the errant daughter of femme fatale Valerie de Chavannes, Kayankaya is drawn into a devilish plot of murder, rape and abduction, which places our hero under the gaze of the police as a murderer himself. Kayankaya is also hired to offer protection to an author under the threat of religious fanatics at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and sure enough his two cases become entwined with dangerous results. Although a slim read, I found the linking of the plots a balanced affair, with the build-up of tension lightened by Kayankaya’s involvement with the publishing fraternity and the humour this produces, a good counterbalance to the sinister and murderous abduction plot at the opening of the book. In the grand tradition of hardboiled noir, Kayankaya presents himself in the same world weary sense as some of the most recognisable protagonists from the pages of Chandler and Hammett, and I adore Arjouni’s depiction of him absorbing and dealing succinctly with the casual racism that his Turkish heritage raises in others. Once again, the book is suffused with some brilliant comical interludes, and speaking as someone who is not a fan of ‘comic’; crime per se, I would draw comparisons with the dark sardonic wit of the late, great Pascal Garnier in some of the moments of levity which to me lost nothing in translation. Also having some personal knowledge of the publishing world myself, I found the depiction of this within the book fair setting, particularly knowing and pitch perfect in its rendition. If you have not encountered this brilliant series before, I would urge you to seek them out, and experience the wonderful world of Kayankaya for yourselves in these perfect little packages of exceptional crime writing.
Announcing the Jakob Arjouni Fund to Fight Pancreatic Cancer
He was born Jakob Bothe on October 8, 1964. He famously published his first novel, Happy Birthday, Turk!, at just 20. The book kick-started a writing career that grew to include not only a series of mystery novels featuring Turkish-German P.I. Kemal Kayankaya—the books that made him famous—but also highly regarded literary novels and plays. Melville House is proud to announce the Arjouni Fund to Fight Pancreatic Cancer. We’ve partnered with Lustgarten Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation dedicated to pancreatic cancer research, which will administer the fund and see that 100% of the money raised in Jakob’s name will go directly to research. We’re asking Jakob’s fans and friends around the world to consider donating in his name.
Melville House publishers Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians also announced that a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Jakob’s final novel will be donated to the fund.
If you don’t know Jakob’s work, a lovely survey can be found in the pages of the New York Times, which hailed Jakob as the German “master of crime fiction.” He was surely this, but he was also a loving father and husband—and a dedicated and generous collaborator, as Jakob’s publishers around the world would readily attest to.