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by Wolf Haas and Annie Janusch, trans.
Melville International Crime, March 2013
174 pages
ISBN: 161219169X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Simon Brenner books by Wolf Haas have been immensely popular in Europe for more than a decade, but they are just now finding their way into American bookstores and despite being initially published in 1997, THE BONE MAN (published as Der Knochenmannin Germany) is only the second Brenner tale to be translated for American audiences, but the series has already reached a certain level of critical acclaim on this side of the Atlantic.

THE BONE MAN, a slim volume (clocking in at a mere 174 pages), starts with the promising set-up of Brenner being called to a popular fried chicken shack where human bones are found in the midst of discarded chicken bones and the manager has gone missing. But nearly as soon as Brenner arrived, he gets pulled in any number of directions: a Slavic soccer team arrives with a shady cast of characters, a waitress with an intriguing backstory ingratiates herself with Brenner, and a few other plot threads all intersect that leads Brenner to confront a grisly truth.

If that seems like a large flood of subplots for such a slender volume, that's because it is and the book suffers greatly as a result. Added to that, the book is narrated by an omnipresent narrator with an attitude, who appears to have greater faith in his own wittiness than is perhaps warranted. For a bit, the narrator is refreshing and provides energy and humor to the proceedings; but the voice quickly wears out its welcome and serves to make the narrative quite painful and confusing. It's unclear to what extent this is a failing of the translation or of the original work, but suffice to say, it does not work for the reader. The reader also never really gets a sense of Brenner as a character—we're told that he misses a woman from his past and has spent many years in the police force, but little is shown in the way of personality or what drives him.

THE BONE MAN may be short in page length, but it severely challenges the reader's patience and attempts - and largely fails - to achieve far too much. By the time the denouement is reached, the reader has long forgotten the initial, enticing hook and is just begging for it to end. Whether a product of a troublesome work or a problematic translation; this work by Wolf Haas is an easy pass for even the most ardent of fans of hard-boiled detective fiction.

§ Ben Neal is a public librarian in northeastern Tennessee and likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, March 2013

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