Age and reason

<strong>Self’s Deception</strong>

Bernhard Schlink<em> Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 304pp, £14.99</em>

Gerhard Self is 69. An old-fashioned private eye in post-reunification Germany, he is a man increasingly out of step with modern times. “I simply can’t keep up with the ways of the young,” he admits. Yet Bernhard Schlink’s protagonist is no armchair curmudgeon. A phone call from the mysterious Herr Salger thrusts him into the deep end of a missing person case, which in turn opens up a can of worms involving murder, poison gas and terrorism.

Schlink’s economical style is a pleasure, ably steering away from gratuitous glamorisation of crime (Schlink is a practising judge).

The procedural elements are lean but executed with charm, and Self’s first-person narration is believable, engaging and likeably unselfconscious when it comes to his age: “One of the advantages of advancing years,” he explains, “is that people believe everything you tell them.” He makes an asset of his anachronistic world-weariness. When his girlfriend brings up the subject of marriage, telling him he’s “not getting any younger”,

he quips, “one never gets

any younger”.

Self’s Deception also plays as a social drama. The shadow of Nazism is ever-present, and terrorism is contextualised. All in all, a well-rounded treat.