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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TURK!
by Jakob Arjouni
Fromm International, January 1987
154 pages
$out of print
ISBN: 0880641487


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Although he was born in Turkey, Kemal Kayankaya has lived all but one year of his life in Germany. After his parents both died, he was adopted and raised by a German family and became a German citizen. In spite of that, he is still an outsider. Other people judge him on his outward characteristics, and he is subjected to verbal and physical harassment because of his racial background. And he can't even speak Turkish!

Kayankaya is a private investigator, and he is hired by a fellow Turk to investigate the murder of her husband, Ahmed Hamul. He was stabbed to death in Frankfurt's red light district, and the police have basically done nothing to find out what happened. Kayankaya has precious little to work with, but he scrapes up some information that leads him to a prostitute. Hamul's family is of little help; they seem curiously uninformed about what he was doing with the last few years of his life.

Kayankaya is a definite representation of the hard-boiled dick, living a hard-drinking, spare life. As he begins the case, he is also celebrating his 26th birthday. Well, if you can call getting pulverized by a pimp and otherwise mistreated celebrating. Within the three days that he spends on the case, he is savagely beaten, almost run down by a car and attacked with tear gas. He finds evidence of drug dealing and police corruption; and eventually, he exacts justice for more than one victim.

Although the protagonist has been compared to Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, I found the link to be tenuous at best. Kayankaya proceeds by interviewing several people. He teams up with a retired police lieutenant named Loff who is bored with his life. I didn't really see why Loff put so much effort into helping Kayankaya out; there didn't seem to be much motivation for him to go out of the way and endanger himself just because he's bored.

The book is billed as "pitch-black noir". I would agree that it is hard-boiled, but the "noir" label just doesn't seem to fit, in my opinion. The story doesn't have that doomed sense of hopelessness and bleakness that I associate with noir.

Overall, I was neutral about the book. I think it had possibilities that weren't realized. The racial tension could have been escalated; the characters weren't fleshed out enough to care about. The book is translated from the German, so it may have lost something in the telling.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, September 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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