In the near future, a German woman finds a way to make money from terrorism, but a rival may be gunning for her business in this darkly entertaining work.
It’s some eight years since Angela Merkel resigned, and Germany’s government is controlled by the Concerned Citizens’ Crusade, a conservative group that is “dismantling one hard-won democratic achievement after the other.” But in liberal circles like Britta’s, there is only dinner-party protest and numbed acceptance. “It’s been years since anyone has known what to think,” Britta thinks in one of the novel’s many cool Didion-esque apercus. Equally cool is the matter-of-fact reveal that Britta and her gay Iraqi partner, Babak, run an agency out of Braunschweig that provides candidates for any sort of suicide bombing required by activists/terrorists from Greenpeace to the Islamic State group. With their careful screening and preparation, they limit collateral damage, body counts, and the likelihood of cold feet. And they dominate the business. So Britta is surprised when two unknown men wearing suicide belts are caught at the Leipzig airport. An attempted bombing in their backyard could be an unknown competitor. German novelist Zeh (Decompression, 2014, etc.), recipient of various European awards for her fiction, tells the story with partial omniscience through Britta and develops a fine character study while exploring the challenges and ironies of being a wife and mother while waterboarding at the office (part of the screening process). The intrigue deepens as Britta realizes that the man with the bad mustache who is bankrolling her husband’s app is also the driver of the white Toyota Hilux she’s been seeing too often. Spooks, codes, kidnapping, plot, and counterplot—it gets complicated but remains strangely low on violence given the grim premise.
A thoughtful political thriller with a provocative sense of humor.