Created by Thomas Richter (pseud. of Bernhard Schlink and Walter Popp)
At the end of the war I was no longer wanted. I'd been a convinced National Socialist, an active party member and a tough prosecutor who'd also argued for (and won) the death penalty. There were some spectacular trials. I had faith in the cause and saw myself as a soldier on the legal front. I could no longer be utilized on the other front following my wound at the start of the war... For me, my work as a public prosecutor didn't have a future. I could only see myself as the National Socialist I'd been and certainly couldn't be again. I'd lost my faith. You probably couldn't imagine how anyone could believe at all in National Socialism. But you've grown up with knowledge that we, after 1945, only got piece by piece.
-- Gerhard tries to explain in Selbs Justiz
GERHARD SELB (known as Gerhard Self in English) is a guilt-ridden, dour seventyish German P.I. created by Bernhard Schlink and Walter Popp.
The first in the series, Selbs Justiz (1987), was written by Berhhard Schlink and Walter Popp under the pen name Thomas Richter, but subsequent books in the series have been written solely by Schlink himslef.
The aging Gerhard Selb was a public prosecutor under the Nazis (and a "convinced National Socialist") but was subsequently fired by the Allies. Suddenly out of work, he toils for a while for his in-laws, and then for some coal merchants before eventually becoming a private investigator.
Self's Punishment ("Selbs Justiz" in the original German) is certainly some kind of book, and an impressive debut. Gerhard's investigation finds him reluctantly plowing through Germany's Nazi past and digging up old skeletons. The book is a classic PI novel in form, narrated in the first person by the lead, a self-aware, self-opinionated and self-depreciating PI.
Schlink has obviously read a lot of crime and PI novels because he has the nuances of the PI book nailed. If you want a fast moving, hard-boiled read you won't find it here.
But if you want a erudite, witty, well-written PI novel, idiosyncratic characters, shrewd insight into humanity, a plotline that develops like a slow-cooking hot pot and an uncompromising slog through a quagmire of moral and ethical ambivalence, this is it.
The German titles, by the way, all play on the detective's last name, which translates as "self." The third in the series, Selbs Mord (2001) is due to be published in English next year, as Self's Murder, although the pun of the German title is lost in translation and might be considered a potentional spoiler.
Bernhard Schlink is the author of the internationally best selling (and Oprah-approved) novel The Reader; a collection of short stories, Flights of Love; and several crime novels, including Die gordische Schleife ("The gordian knot") which won the Glauser Prize in 1989. He has also worked as a professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, in New York, and at Humboldt University, in Berlin.
Walter Popp is also a lawyer. He was born in Nuremberg and studied law at the University of Erlangen. He started a practice in Mannheim before moving to France in 1983.
Preliminary report respectfully submitted by Marcel Bernadac, with full report filed by Eric Chambers, with some additional legwork from Kevin Burton Smith.
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