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by Takis Würger and Charlotte Collins, trans.
Grove Press, March 2019
224 pages
ISBN: 0802128963

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE CLUB is a haunting first novel with an undertow of primal violence that the ending cannot resolve or make OK. The title refers to the Pitt Club, an exclusive men's club at Cambridge university whose initiation ceremony involves drugs and rape.

Dramatis personae:

Alexandra Birk, called Alex, woman with a degree History of Art, Cambridge whose past harbours something deeply troubling; her young nephew in Germany, Hans Stichler; his parents, who raised Hans in a cottage in a forest reminiscent of all cottages and forests in Grimm's tales; Magic Mike from Florida, war veteran, red neck, boxer; Billy, mechanical engineering major, poor, a boxer; the African Prince, a heavyweight boxer; Wing Commander Victor Spratt, boxing coach; Josh Hartley, member of the Pitt Club, a homosexual who abuses women; Charlotte Farewell, invited to the Club on initiation night; Angus Farewell, her father, but also a member of the Pitt Club and a boxer; Peter Wong, Chinese man who wants to be part of the Pitt Club, and who will do nearly anything to belong.

Takis Würger's book does not fit the murder mystery genre. It's more like a rape mystery, and there is no police procedural, court of law, or even private investigator. Instead, Alex Birk, Hans Stichler's aunt, asks her orphaned nephew to come to Cambridge University, change his name, go undercover, and infiltrate a shadowy men's club, the Pitt Club.

All of those who belong to the Pitt Club are proven boxers. Trained in grueling sessions, they fight rival university boxers in brief, violent battles. Oh, yes, these are rule-governed fights with referees and audiences; but all of the referees and rules in the world cannot cover the fact of boxing's violence, of broken noses and battered ribs, of heads hit so hard that the fighter is KOed and must be carried from the ring. That violent contest is actually the trial that allows young men to join the Pitt Club, and Hans, a fine fighter, makes it in.

The notion of the club is steeped in irony: Angus Farewell, an older member of the Pitt Cub who takes Hans under his wing, shelters the young German man, makes sure he has the right cut of clothing to fit in, emphasizes that the club is nothing more than a group of like-minded men who will be the movers in shakers of the business world. Yet all members, including Angus, fought bloody fights and bested their opponents in the ring in order to gain this status as a man of affairs.

The real center of the story, however, is not the boxers, but the women who have been invited to a special initiation night for newly elected members of the Pitt Club. A special invitation appears in their mailboxes. They appear at the party honoring the new inductees, and then they awaken battered, recalling nothing of the night before. It is this practice that Hans goes under cover to investigate.

The novel is told by multiple first person narrators. The limited knowledge of each individual narrator means that no one, including the reader, knows the big picture until the denouement. Readers dive in and out of the psyches of men who sport a civilized surface, with their coats cut in just the right way to indicate just the right amount of wealth without being too forward about it. Under the surface, these men enjoy hitting each other with their fists. Somehow in this world, Hans bears memories of having grown up in an almost idyllic forest world, loved and protected by his parents. Somehow in this world, men and women courted, bore children whom they lovingly tend. THE CLUB, set against a background of privileged and groomed Cambridge, reminds us that the creatures from whom the human race initially sprang lived in the forest and had claws.

§ Dr. Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a fan of the well-fashioned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, November 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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