SELF’S MURDER by Bernhard Schlink

Book Quote:

“The stories life writes demand endings, and as long as a story doesn’t have an ending, it keeps everyone who participates in it in check. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending. The good don’t have to be rewarded and the bad punished. But the threads of fate cannot be left dangling: they have to be woven into the story’s tapestry. Only when that is done can we leave the story behind us. Only then are we free to begin something new.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Doug Bruns (AUG 11, 2009)

I can be slow on the uptake, so it doesn’t much upset me that I didn’t understand the title to this book until I was walking the dog the morning after I’d finished it. Then, in sort of a forehead slapping a-ha moment, I got it. It, the title, is meant to send you off in one direction, only to surprise you and whip you back in another. It is a classic ploy of the genre. Of course, this book being a mystery, I rightly shouldn’t explain any of it. To do so would tip the cart and everything would start to go tumbling. That is the trouble with mysteries. They can be such fun that you want to talk about them. But to talk is to risk revealing. So I will tread lightly and tell you want I can, without spoiling things.

Gerhard Self, the seventy-something lawyer cum sleuth, helps push a Mercedes out of the snow during a winter storm in the German mountains. The passenger is Bertram Welker of the private bank Weller and Welker, and his driver, Gregor Samarin, is an odd duck, if not an enigma. Discovering that Self is a detective, Welker gives him his card and asks Self call him. Herr Welker is attempting to write a history of the bank but is stymied over the identity of a mysterious silent partner. Welker hires Self to presumably discover the identity of the silent bank partner. Self soon suspects that the silent partner assignment is a ruse and pursues, for his own satisfaction, loose leads and dark alleys. Soon thereafter, he is given a briefcase stuffed with money by an rattled elderly gentleman who darts off in his car, crashes into a tree and dies instantly. Unable to resist the intrigue, Self travels to former east Germany, discovers a money laundering scheme, has a street brush up with skin-heads, getting tossed in the drink as a result, not once but twice, is trailed by Russian mafia, confronted by a middle-aged man claiming to be his long-lost son, has a heart attack, explores a Nazi past, and wrestles with German guilt.

P. G. Woodhouse said that he felt it was the character that made a story humorous. There is a subtile humor in this book and it is the character Self that delivers it, understatedly. To wit: “The woman next to me was afraid of flying. She asked me to hold her hand and I did. As we were taking off, I reassured her with the information that most airplane accidents occur not during take off but during landing. An hour and half later, when our plane began to descend, I confessed that I had not been all that honest with her. The truth is that most airplane accidents do in fact occur during takeoff, not when the plan is landing. We had taken off quite a while ago, so she could sit back and relax. But she didn’t, and at Berlin Tempelhof she rushed off without so much as a goodbye.” The beauty of a passage like this is how it puts the character’s compassion and good intention on display, but awkwardly so. It brings an every so slight smile to our face. Too, it hints at the overarching theme of the book: things, despite our best intentions, don’t always turn out like we think they should.

As is hinted at in the passage above, there is also a dark thread to this tapestry and it becomes more pronounced as the book progresses. By the end, our witty and curious detective has had a heart operation and is spent: “Worn out. I’m quite aware that the operation wasn’t a success. Otherwise they would have told me. And I wouldn’t have been so tired. Sometimes I feel as if my tiredness is out to poison me.” That’s dark.

Bernhard Schlink is best known for his book The Reader, which was made into a successful high-profile movie. He is German, and a lawyer. Self’s Murder is the last in a series of books profiling the detective. It is a page turner, enlightening and fun. It is also provocative and serious.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 13 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage (August 11, 2009)
REVIEWER: Doug Bruns
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Bernhard Schlink
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read a review of The Reader

and a review of Homecoming


Self Detective Novels:


Movies from books:

August 11, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: End-of-Life, Germany, Literary, Sleuths Series, World Lit

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