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BRENNER AND GOD by Wolf Haas, Review: Packs a punch

Wolf Haas’s Brenner and God, a humorous hard-boiled translated crime novel, features one of the most engaging narrative voices I have come across. Read on for our full review.
Brenner and God by Wolf Haas

Brenner and God Synopsis

Simon Brenner is an ex-detective who’s now turned to a quieter career as the personal chauffeur for two-year-old Helena, the daughter of a Munich construction giant and a Viennese abortion doctor. One day at the gas station, while Brenner’s attention is turned to picking out a chocolate bar for Helena, the little girl gets snatched from the car. Now out of a job, Brenner decides investigate her disappearance on his own. With both parents in the public eye, there’s no scarcity of leads—the father’s latest development project has spurred public protest, and the mother’s clinic has been targeted by the zealous leader of an anti-abortion group.

Set in Vienna’s gas stations, betting parlors, and “Yugoslav” discos, Brenner and God features a dubious cast of powerful characters: there are Viennese politicians, bankers, and real estate magnates, all implicated in the kidnapping.

Told in a playful style that has won the admiration of readers around the world, Haas writes with a dark humor that leaves no character, including Brenner, unscathed.  (Melville International Crime)

Translated from the original German by Annie Janusch

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

BOOK REVIEW

Let’s cut to the chase – I eagerly devoured this humorous hard-boiled piece of translated crime fiction and I’ll be coming back for more from this author’s collection. Why?

Wolf Haas’s Brenner and God features one of the most engaging narrative voices I have come across in fiction.

He’s like the wickedly dry voice-over guy that is never let out of his sound booth and behind that mask of anonymity is highly opinionated. He is omnipresent, often reminding us that he knows how the story ends, but routinely speaks from a first-person point of view. In this way, this all-seeing all-knowing narrator becomes a key character himself. He doesn’t just relay events or tell the tale, he overtly engages in philosophical discussions with his audience and even second-guesses his own assessment of character’s motives. He acknowledges the fallibility of all characters and the quirky tangents his narration takes serves to contextualize their actions within particular societal and cultural norms.

While one suspects the narrator may have a soft spot for underdog protagonist Brenner, he never overtly takes sides, encouraging readers to decide for themselves what stance they take on the issues presented.

That brings us to Brenner – a strung-out medicated detective seeking a quieter life as a chauffeur. While it is clear there is an involved back story to this character, it’s a credit to both the author and translator the negligible impact my not having been privy to that had on my enjoyment of Brenner and God. This is the seventh novel in the Brenner Series but the first to be published in English.

Brenner satisfies many of this genre’s tropes – he’s the burnt-out screw-up with a heart, that still has some of the old dog detective in him if pushed hard enough. The juxtaposition of his unconditional love for his little charge with his jaded opinions on society is heartwarming.

Believe it or not, the Kressdorf kid’s first word – not “Mama,” not “Papa” – “Driver”. But that was at least six months ago because, in the meantime, little Helena has already started chattering so much from her car seat that the driver barely has use for the radio anymore. And above all she’s good at understanding. Herr Simon’s had the feeling that this child understands him better than most adults he’s had anything to do with in his life. He can tell Helena the most difficult things, problems, all of it, and that two-year-old girl in the backseat understands. In return, she gives him a full report, every detail down to the hair, when he picks her up from her nanny, and Herr Simon, always the attentive listener. There was simply a kindred connection between them. Like-minded souls; understatement.

Although a slim novel, Brenner and God really packs a punch. Haas puts front and centre issues many in society shy away from. This unhampered by convention approach, along with momentum derived from the narrative style and the mortal danger faced by numerous characters kept me thoroughly engrossed.

While the stylistic elements in Wolf Haas’ Brenner and God may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it has breathed life back into the crime novel for me. I look forward to reading the next title in this series translated into English, The Bone Manand more of the titles brought to an English readership by Melville.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

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Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery, Action-Adventure, Humour, Crime-Detective, Translation

While perhaps not strictly literature, this review of Wolf Haas’ Brenner and God is my nod to German Lit Month.

If you like the sound of Brenner and God you may also enjoy:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson  /  Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo  /  Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford  /  The Invisible Man from Salem by Christoffer Carlsson  /  The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

About the Author, Wolf Haas

Wolf Haas was born in 1960 in the Austrian province of Salzburg. He is the author of seven books in the bestselling Detective Brenner mystery series, three volumes of which have been made into popular German-language films. Among other prizes, the Brenner books have been awarded the German thriller prize and the 2004 Literature Prize from the City of Vienna.

Other reviews of Brenner and God: Three Percent; Crime Segments; James Reads Books; BlogCritics; EuroCrime