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Self's Deception (Vintage International)by Bernhard Schlink
Synopses & Reviews
Gerhard Self, the dour private detective, returns in this riveting crime novel about terrorism, governmental cover-up, and the treacherous waters where they mix.
Leo Salger, the daughter of a powerful Bonn bureaucrat, is missing, and Self has been hired to find her. His investigation initially leads him to a psych ward at a local hospital, where he is made to believe that Leo fell from a window and died. Self soon discovers, however, that Leo is alive and well and that she was involved in a terrorist incident the government is feverishly trying to keep under wraps. The result is a wildly entertaining, superbly nuanced thriller that follows one detectives desire to uncover the truth, wherever it may lead.
"In German author Schlink's meandering second crime novel available in English to feature aging PI Gerhard Self (after Self's Punishment), a man named Salger hires Self to locate his missing daughter, Leonore. With little help from the father, Self tracks the missing girl to an insane asylum outside Heidelberg, where he's informed by a doctor that Leo has recently died there in an accident. Self quickly learns, among other details, that the death report is untrue, Leo's father is not really her father and that the case is connected to a top-secret government investigation. Self can be completely off the wall one minute — he lies outrageously to anyone who might have information and breaks-and-enters without compunction — and the next he's as comfortable as an old shoe, having a glass of Riesling and hanging out with his cat, Turbo. The eccentric detective is the big draw, with the less than action-packed investigation coming in a distant second. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The German lawyer and novelist Bernhard Schlink is best known in this country for 'The Reader,' a novel about a teenage boy's affair with an older woman with a Nazi past. 'The Reader' appeared here about a decade ago and reached the top of the best-seller lists, reportedly the only German novel ever to scale those heights. Schlink also writes a series about a German private investigator, Gerhard Self,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and 'Self's Deception' is the latest in this series. It is one strange book. The novel's plot, although elusive, can be glimpsed now and then. Self, who is 69, is hired to find a missing college girl (this all seems to be taking place about 20 years ago). In time he does find her and learns that she has been involved with terrorists who attacked a U.S. military installation. He helps her escape the police because he thinks the case against her is 'fishy,' a view encouraged by his age-inappropriate crush on her. She flees, leaving him to figure out if one of her fellow terrorists killed a psychiatrist who had befriended her. Self comes to suspect that poison gas is stored at the U.S. base, and he joins forces with a freelance journalist who is determined to break the story. This plot has potential, but Schlink never develops it because terrorism and the missing woman don't really interest him. The plot plays hide-and-seek with us, but the novel is really about the crusty old detective, his philosophy, his whimsy, his friends and his love of food, drink, women and his cat. This is one of the most discursive novels I've ever read. Let us note that Schlink has been both a judge and a law professor: This is a writer accustomed to captive audiences. We learn that as a young man Self was a state prosecutor under the Nazis, but after the war, a guilty conscience led him to quit that job and become a private detective. He was unhappily married for many years, and after his wife's death he took up with a younger woman who wants to marry him but from time to time goes off with other men, which Self accepts. He often reflects on the indignities of age. For example, 'Maybe I stumble around a bit more as I get older, but do I have any choice?' and 'I have no bone to pick with my age, but there are early summer evenings when, if you're not young and in love, you're simply out of place in this world.' For the record, Schlink himself turned 63 last week. Self often visits a policeman friend whose hobby is replicating things with matchsticks. As he debates whether the Empire State Building or Rodin's 'Kiss' should be his next project, we learn more than we need to know about the art of matchstick sculpture. Self has another friend, Philipp, a doctor who's 'pushing sixty' and is about to marry a Turkish-born nurse. Schlink devotes three pages to the wedding, which is amusing enough until the groom turns up drunk and says he's changed his mind, whereupon the spurned bride's brother stabs him. We then follow Philipp to a hospital, where he offers dubious theories about women: 'Remember, Gerhard: Nice earlobes mean nice breasts' is followed by 'Have you ever noticed how all women with pointed chins have broad hips?' A bit of dog-walking leads Self to philosophical rumination: 'In general I have my doubts when it comes to evolution and progress, but the fact that erotic attraction between humans doesn't involve sniffing tree trunks and corners is without doubt a clear sign of evolutionary progress.' He amuses us with odd factoids ('In the science section (of a newspaper), I learned that cockroaches lead warm and caring family lives') and endless details about his favorite cigarettes (Sweet Aftons) and beverages ('It's amazing how a shot or two of sambuca can make the world click into place'). We learn that his girlfriend's Sunday dinner of green dumplings and Thuringer leg of mutton 'managed a seamless culinary unification of East and West German cuisines.' Self gives us his theories on murder (people commit murder, he says, for only one reason, 'to save their life's illusions') and classical music (he understands Bach 'the way one can only understand Bach when one is pushing seventy'). When Self mentions in passing a bottle of champagne 'that I had won a few years earlier as third prize in a seniors' surfing competition,' one's only possible response is bewilderment. The novel has occasional nice touches. As Self walks near a psychiatric institution, 'Shouts and laughter echoed against the wall of the old building like the impenetrable confusion of voices in an indoor swimming pool.' Having spent several youthful years in such pools, and remembering that sound, I was pleased to see it captured in print. But in general, 'Self's Deception' is a self-indulgent piece of work, rather maddening if you are not charmed by the haphazard musings of a certain old German." Reviewed by Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at the American Prospect, and the author of 'Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War'Steve Amick, who is the author of 'The Lake, the River & the Other Lake'Donna Rifkind, who reviews fiction frequently for The Washington PostCarolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comPatrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany. He is the author of the internationally bestselling novel The Reader, as well as four prize-winning crime novels-The Gordian Knot, Self's Fraud, Self's Punishment, and Self Slaughter--that are currently being translated into English. He lives in Bonn and Berlin.
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