A beguiling, idiosyncratic exercise in postmodern bafflement by the late artist/novelist Herrndorf (Why We Took the Car, 2014, etc.), awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for it in 2012.
Somewhere along the coastal desert of northwestern Africa—Herrndorf isn’t specific, but it’s a former French colony, so perhaps Mali—four disaffected foreigners living in a commune have been killed in a murder whose payoff is a basket of fruit and a wicker suitcase full of an unknown currency. The case draws attention: There’s an American woman “best seen from afar”—no surprise that her last name and hotel room add up to the moniker of a far-distant star—and a Swedish double agent with nuclear secrets to sell. Then there are two cops assigned to the case, one of them a Frenchman who took the gig to get away from a girlfriend in Paris and who “didn’t have a clue about Africa.” He worries that he doesn’t have a clue about much of anything, since he scored lower on an intelligence test than his partner, who’s dumb enough to bring about his own demise thanks to a miscalculation having to do with the political influence of the prime suspect. Then there’s the guy whose head was bashed in and wanders in from the desert, an amnesiac, apparently well connected enough to international plots of derring-do that the Stasi, the CIA, and a sinister pseudo-psychiatrist are after him. Electrical shocks ensue, whereupon the amnesiac “talked about everything he knew, and he talked about the things he didn’t know, too.” In this rollicking shaggy-cum-sandy dog of a tale, no one knows much of anything, save that the badder the bad guy the more reliable the information. Herrndorf, it seems, had trouble deciding what this story would be—a satire? a spy novel? a thriller? Suffice it to say that if you mashed up the Ian Fleming of Casino Royale with Tin Drum–era Günter Grass and threw in a little Paul Bowles for leavening, you might get something approaching this concoction.
It’s bizarre, wacky, and broad—but highly entertaining, especially for fans of the Vonnegut/DFW school of the absurd.