Brenner and God by Wolf Haas, translated from the German by Annie Janusch

brenner and god

The most unusual thing about Wolf Haas’s detective thriller Brenner and God, a novel not shy about tackling unusual things, is the narrator.

What to make of the narrator?  It’s it a first person narrator or a third person narrator?

See what you think:

Now, what was it that Peinhaupt was going to casually ask the suspicious chauffeur?  How well he know Knoll, of course.  But there was no way of posing the question of the pro-life boss himself without making everything immediately obvious.  How often Herr Simon had seen Knoll.  Whether he’d ever spoken with him.  What he made of the threats that Knoll had issued against the Frau Doctor.

“Why didn’t you just ask me that from the beginning?” Herr Simon yelled.  I have to say, I hardly recognize him like this.  It’s my opinion that the pills were now to blame for his sudden aggression.  “Why have you been screwing around here this whole time with whether I saw someone in the rearview mirror or whether the car was locked?”

Wolf Haas used this same narrator with his novel The Bone Man, this omniscient third person who continually refers to himself in the first person.  Technically, he’s a third person narrator, since he is not a true character in the story.  He’s something of a throw-back to an earlier point in the novel’s development, early nineteenth late eighteenth century when it was still commonplace for an author to intrude on the story openly from time to time just to make sure the reader was getting the point the author meant the reader to get.

By no means does this get in the way of the fun.  It’s not even the biggest risk Mr. Haas takes in Brenner and God.

This time around Brenner has left the police force. Looking for a more quiet line of work he has become a chauffeur.  His client is a doctor who works in one of the few clinics in Vienna that performs abortions.  Brenner drives the doctor’s daughter to and from school each day past the anti-abortion protestors who are trying to shut down the clinic.

One day Brenner steps away from the car into a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes only to find the girl is gone when he returns. At first Brenner is considered a suspect, but soon suspicion moves to Knoll, the man who heads up the local anti-abortion movement. As no ransom notes ever arrives, the case becomes more complicated, as it should in any halfway decent detective thriller.

I have no idea just how sensitive the topic of abortion is in German-speaking (reading) Europe, but it’s a risky one here in the United States.  Mr. Haas takes no stand on the issue, it’s simply the background for the kidnapping case at hand.  Both the head of the anti-abortion movement and the doctor who runs the clinic have dark secrets that will complicate the case before it’s finally solved.

Brenner and God is the second of seven Brenner novels that I’ve managed to find in English.  I’m hoping Melville House will bring more of them out soon.   I’ve grown fond of this strange 3rd/1st person narrator.