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Kemal Kayankaya: A summer Frankfurter everyone can enjoy

Happy Birthday, Turk!, by Jakob Arjouni, 192 pages, Melville House, $14.95

Mystery novels about Germany that show up on our shores tend to be either reprints of World War II-era books or new novels set in that time. It’s an interesting milieu, but it’s unimaginative. Jakob Arjouni escaped those confines by writing mysteries set in modern-day Germany, dealing with very modern problems and featuring a refreshingly different kind of protagonist.

Kemal Kayankaya is a German private eye, mostly working the underside of Frankfurt. He can be found dealing with the prostitutes, local mobsters, two-bit thugs, and other lowlifes among whom Kayankaya generally finds his life, his customers and his friends.

Kayankaya is Turkish-German. He deals with the ever-present prejudice against him the same way he deals with everything and everybody: with belligerent humor, a little violence that usually leaves him worse off than it leaves his opponent, and an unquestioned assurance that the other person is an idiot.
He is foul-mouthed, fearless, and as likely to interrogate someone as he is to help himself to the person’s liquor. He bends laws. He blackmails. He makes wisecracks, usually at the expense of the dull-witted and ill-intentioned people in his way. He is not above tripling his fees when he is on the receiving end of racial condescension from a rich client.

Arjouni has written only four Kayankaya novels in the past quarter century.

Happy Birthday, Turk! introduces us to Kayankaya, who takes on the case of a murdered Turkish immigrant in Frankfurt’s red-light district. The police aren’t helpful, but Kayankaya keeps unraveling the story of the victim, his family, and the hookers who befriend and bedevil them all. In More Beer, Kayankaya is called upon to try to vindicate four eco-activists accused of murdering the owner of a chemical business. An immigrant prostitute is kidnapped in One Man, One Murder, and her German boyfriend hires Kayankaya to locate her. Finally, Kismet finds Kayankaya stumbling (literally, out of a cabinet) into a web of vicious Croatian mobsters.

These novels have only recently become widely available in the United States. The characters are engaging and the books are well written, but the Kayankaya novels are not without at least one recurring problem. Typos, mostly in the form of missing words, keep cropping up, not often enough to ruin the experience, but enough to annoy.

As you stock up on novels to read during the summer, you would do well to grab a couple of Arjouni’s Kayankaya books.

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