Monday, February 18, 2008

Self's Deception

I picked up a copy of this Bernhard Schlink mystery at Rhian's store the other day, because it has a blurb on the back from Håkan Nesser, whose The Return I really got into last year. I'd glanced at Schlink's books from time to time, figured I might like them, then somehow managed not to actually read any. Finally this week I read Self's Deception.

Not at all what I expected, though I don't know what I expected. Schlink can really write, and this book diverts from forumla in several ways, most prominently among them his detective, Gerhard Self, who is a dyspeptic 69-year-old who wheezes walking up the stairs. Self is prone to wonderfully dry asides, like this one, which he issues after wearily observing a Heidelberg street scene:

I find the tide of strolling consumers in pedestrian areas no more agreeable, either aesthetically or morally, than comrades on parade or soldiers on the march. But I have grave doubts that I will live to see Heidelberg's main street once again filled with cheerfully ringing trams, cars honking happily, and related, bustling people hurrying to places where they have something to do, and not simply to places where there's something to see, something to nibble at, or something to buy.

It's a nice change of pace from the usual hard-drinking, self-loathing gumshoe of pretty much every other mystery series out there, even the good ones. Self is in fact rather self-satisfied, a hedonist at heart, the kind of guy who spends his first day in jail (having aided a suspected terrorist in escaping to France) thusly: "I ate a few of the pretzels with some cheese and apples, drank the Barolo, and read Gottfried Keller."

Evidently prison isn't so bad, in Germany. In any event, I recommend this book--although the mystery itself is only somewhat interesting, and Self's deadpan delivery eventually becomes--not boring, not irritating, but uninspiring--and it's taken me more than a week to get to the end. Self's Deception is a novel I've been happy, every day, to get back to, but not exactly anguished to put down for the night.

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