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.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Brown v Cameron. Game over?