Happy Birthday, Turk by Jakob Arjouni Translated from the German by Anselm Hollo

It was nice to have a detective novel start with someone hiring a detective. Just a straightforward person in trouble needing a someone to do a job the police won’t.  That the detective is a Turkish immigrant living in mid-1980’2 Germany makes the story a bit more fun, but is neither here nor there in the end.

Happy Birthday, Turk is a hard-boiled detective story for people who like hard-boiled detective stories, like me.  The detective is Kemal Kayankaya, not down on his luck exactly but far enough from success to be willing to take a few jobs other detectives might not. He serves the Turkish immigrant community in Frankfurt, a group of people who have little reason to expect much from the German police.  

Kayakaya is hired by the wife of the deceased, a poor Turkish immigrant, a laborer who was stabbed to death in Frankfurt’s red-light district.  The police assume he was involved in drugs, prostitution or both and have no interest in pursuing the case.  The deceased’s wife, who does not believe her husband was involved in anything illegal, hires Kayankaya against the wishes of her family.

This layer of immigration politics and the cultural experience of Turkish immigrants in Germany give Happy Birthday, Turk an interesting twist that help it stand out from other contemporary detective noirs.  But even without these aspects, Kayankaya is more than entertaining enough to hold the reader.  He is one funny narrator:

Behind the counter (of the bakery) stood the owner’s corpulent daughter, an impressive advertisement for her father’s dough.

Above my office are the quarters of a dubious credit institution whose source of profit lies in the fine print.

“What cafeteria? Where?” ……. “At the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation.” …….  Bad radio and bad schnitzels, I thought.

He stuck his finger up his nose and stirred things around a bit.  It was almost possible to observe the snot-filled brain at work.

“You a cop?” ….. “No, I’m a Turk.”

It’s important for a noir detective to be wise-cracking, even a Turkish immigrant living in Germany.