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A mystery within the mystery: Who’s telling this story?

July 22, 2013 by Reader's Connection

Brenner and GodListen carefully. You need to take note of the following: the difficult thing about a kidnapping is always the ransom handover. If that weren’t true, everybody would be kidnapping everybody else. It would be paradise on earth! Imagine, no one would have to work anymore; instead, everyone would make a living purely by kidnapping.

Those words of wisdom come from Simon Brenner*, an Austrian fellow who was once a policeman, and then a private detective, and has now become a chauffeur, because he thought it would be less stressful. But when someone kidnaps Helena, the darling little girl whom he chauffeurs about on the Autobahn, Brenner is stressed.

The novel is Wolf Haas’s Brenner and God. It is narrated by the detective*, which is common in murder mysteries. Here’s how it starts:

My grandmother always used to say to me, when you die, they’re gonna give that mouth of yours its own funeral. So you see, a person can change. Because today I am the epitome of silence.

But for most of the novel, Brenner writes about himself in the third person.

You can see how he was already getting back into the swing a bit. Nothing compared to the old days, of course. Long gone are the days when he would lay in wait for her by the recycling bins in front of her house–full throttle, as it were. Although, to be honest, he’d often idealized his past a little. Because in truth Brenner had never been full throttle–actually in reverse most of the time, or hand brake, broken starter, distributor out, wet spark plugs, that kind of thing. An irony of fate: Brenner owed his broad shoulders–which, in the eyes of women, lent him an energetic aura–to the endless push-starting of the stalled jalopy that was his life.

The Bone ManSo far, only two Brenner novels have been translated from German into English and made it to America. The other one, The Bone Man, is only available from the library as a downloadable e-book, but you can suggest that we order a paper copy. (Brenner and God is also available as a downloadable e-book.)

Another Brenner mystery, called Eternal Life, is due in January 2014. They aren’t showing up here in the order they were written.

*I want to avoid saying too much about what goes on in these books, so I’ll focus on the question of who’s narrating them. Not everyone thinks that Brenner is describing his actions in the third person. Author Lisa Brackmann is quoted on the paperback: “Drolly told by an unidentified yet surprisingly reliable narrator, Brenner and God is very funny . . .” So Brenner isn’t doing the talking?

I’ll admit that this passage from The Bone Man seems to support Brackmann’s position:

And if you’re going to be a detective in this day and age, you simply can’t let yourself be guided by sympathy. Sure, he liked the waitress–I like her too, I freely admit. And on his way up to the dining room, he was still secretly holding on to one hope: if, one by one, everyone’s disappearing, maybe in the meantime, the waitress has already disappeared, too, and I’ll get out of doing this.

Who is that “I” who admits to sharing Brenner’s fondness for the waitress? I say it’s just Brenner having fun with us. Brenner is our storyteller. Brenner’s the man! But I could be the only reader in Austria or America who believes that.

Just so you know: There is a lot of humor in these novels, but I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that they’re cozies. Some of the murder victims die in nauseating ways.

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