An intricately plotted but thematically belabored German thriller.
The narrative momentum accelerates into a page-turning climax, one that makes it tough to distinguish the good from the bad guys and to keep the shifting identities straight, but the elaborate setup requires a suspension of credibility. The novel introduces four characters who were friends in high school, where they all had ambitious hopes for the future, but each is somewhat adrift a decade later. Kris has just lost his journalist’s job, Tamara has relinquished custody of her daughter, Wolf has seen a whirlwind romance turn tragic with his lover’s overdose death and Frauke has become estranged from her mother, who is committed to a mental institution. Kris and Wolf are brothers; Tamara and Frauke are best friends. There is also some romantic complication between the men and the women. Fortune strikes after they team to form an agency called Sorry, which—and here’s the part that strains credulity—becomes an instant success by offering to make apologies for people who don’t want to do it themselves. Some sort of amends—financial or otherwise—occasionally accompany the apologies, and the central conceit allows the author to meditate on the implications of guilt, atonement, redemption and responsibility. There are other characters, including one introduced on the first page as “You,” who commits a brutal crime in which the agency becomes involved and just may be responsible. “You” are morally ambiguous, perhaps the devil incarnate, perhaps an avenging angel, and though you are given a name as the narrative proceeds, it may not be your real name. Whoever you are depends significantly on the identity of a character generally referenced as “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” who complicates the proceedings in a manner unknown to the agency but increasingly evident to the reader. “You have an agency that apologizes, but there’s lots that you can’t forgive yourselves,” explains the character more often known as “You” to the most reluctant member of the agency’s quartet.
Ignore the literary and philosophical pretensions and hang on for the ride.