SELF'S PUNISHMENT
Bernhard Schlink & Walter Popp

 


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Phoenix Paperbacks, November 2005
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

Gerhard Self is a private detective. He is a widower, balding, single and sixty-eight years old; he likes to smoke, drink ‘Aviator Fuel’ cocktails, and admires ladies bottoms when they walk away from him. Self is summoned by his long-time friend and brother-in-law Korten, to investigate several incidents of computer-hacking at a chemicals company. He soon finds himself dealing with an unfamiliar kind of crime that throws up many challenges. But in his search for the hacker, Self stumbles upon something far more sinister. His investigation eventually unearths dark secrets of Germany’s past that have been hidden for decades, and forces Self to confront his own demons and wrestle with some moral questions.

SELF’S PUNISHMENT was first published in Germany in 1987, but has just been translated into English. The co-authors, Bernhard Schlink and Walter Popp, are both lawyers, so it makes sense that their hero is a lawyer as well, who does investigative work for insurance fraud on the side. It is a very different mystery, and I would recommend it to lovers of Euro-crime novels. Written in the first person, we get to learn more about the personal thoughts of Self, why he does what he does, what he feels. Self is a lovely man with a good sense of humour. For example, he decorates his Christmas tree with different objects: this year it is sardine cans. He also has some dreadful chat-up lines. When he sees a woman reading an article about sterilisation in a magazine, he first asks if she comes here often and then leaps straight in "…Are you sterilised..?” One thing I particularly liked was the amount of detail given in the various scenes, which made the whole book quite evocative. I liked to travel in my mind along with him as he journeyed through Germany, the rest of Europe, as well as America. The only thing I wasn't too sure about was the end. You might feel justice is done but what happens is certainly unusual in detective fiction; and certainly thought provoking.

January 2006
 

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