Investigating at the Edge of the Abyss
Friedrich Ani’s new novel is practically a class reunion. His idiosyncratic heroes Tabor Süden, Polonius Fischer and Jakob Franck all make appearances. But there’s a new person in Friedrich Ani’s cosmos of characters; a policewoman who the older colleagues sometimes give a leg up.
By Holger Moos
All die unbewohnten Zimmer (All the Uninhabited Rooms) is the name of Friedrich Ani’s latest novel, which we could as always call a crime thriller, but is as always so much more than a crime thriller. The impulsive first-person narrator Fariza Nasri is a police officer who comes back to the Bavarian capital after a disciplinary transfer to the provinces. Since solving crimes isn’t easy, the different – as they’re often called – “competencies” of her older colleagues are needed.
This troop is “like a group of superheroes, everyday Avengers, so to speak,” as SPIEGEL describes the line-up of inspectors. But not only weaving in all these specifically damaged personalities, but also the fact that not only one, but two crimes must be solved, lead to a novel of almost 500 pages.
An amok actNasri works at the superintendent’s office nicknamed “The Twelve Apostles” headed by former monk Polonius Fischer. The nickname stems from the fact that the superintendent has deemed it crucial not only that the staff all eat lunch together, but also take turns reading from a favourite book. It’s a charming idea that we should all emulate if only we didn’t live in such a fast-paced world that doesn’t allow such rituals.
In the first part of the book, an amok-like act occurs on Shrove Tuesday. A librarian is shot and a cop is grazed by a bullet while buying rolls at the same crime scene. This case is quickly solved after 80 pages, however, and serves to introduce us to Ani’s new character, the half-Syrian Fariza Nasri.
The main case revolves around a patrol cop chasing after two boys from Syria who stole an apple. The policeman is beaten to death in broad daylight in a closed road. The plot is embedded in a political atmosphere in which the “concerned racists” of the “Patriotic Alliance of Germany” move through Munich on their silent weekly march, escorted by a highly armed police force and counter-demonstrators. The media and politicians exert considerable pressure on the police apparatus while the investigation proceeds very slowly.
Writer of extensive incidentalsNot only does Tabor Süden, who works part-time detective jobs searching for missing persons and full-time in search of himself, get involved in the investigation. Thanks to Nasri’s presence of mind and astuteness there is one solid piece of evidence. But, strictly speaking, it’s the human conscience that leads to the case being solved. The extent to which the, well, pressure exerted on this conscience by the investigators plays a part remains a question that’s up to the reader to answer.
Incidentally, the title of the new novel stems from an idiosyncrasy of Tabor Süden who irregularly enters a church and lights a candle for those “whose rooms were left uninhabited after an all-out misfortune.” Ani’s book ranks second place in the Krimibestenliste (best crime novel list) in July 2019. It is “a big, dark novel that looks into the flickering eyes of our confounding times, amazingly without getting tangled up in the plethora of characters, stories, and inspectors.”
The boundaries between victims and perpetrators blur, each and every one is a victim and perpetrator at the same time. Ani has created another social novel that creates understanding for the marginalised, the outcast, the ever scandalous, the silent, the lonely, the damaged, the failures, the latently aggressive. What’s exceptional is the consistency of the literary quality of this “writer of extensive incidentals” as Sylvia Staude calls him in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Year after year, he writes good books that are a great reading experience.
Ani, Friedrich: All die unbewohnten Zimmer
Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2019. 494 S.
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