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Authors: Jakob Arjouni

Magic Hoffmann

BOOK: Magic Hoffmann
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Fred, Nickel and Annette share a dream: to escape to Canada, away from the crushing boredom of provincial Germany. Canada where you can live free, rent a house on the lake, go fishing, become a famous photographer... but such dreams cost money... and money comes from... banks. 

The great bank robbery goes horribly wrong and Fred is arrested but as in all good movies he doesn't grass up his friends.

Four years later, Fred is out and heads for Berlin, a city in flux after the dismantling of the Wall. He is pursuing his money, his friends and still, his Canadian dream. But for Annette and Nickel life has moved on...
Magic Hoffmann
is a superb novel about contemporary Germany and one man's refusal to be brought down by his country and his “friends”.

Jakob Arjouni was only 20 when his first bestselling crime novel was published in Germany and was such a literary prodigy that he had managed to create a substantial and durable body of work by the time of his death in January 2013 at the age of 48. This output includes the five pioneering novels featuring Kemal Kayankaya, a Turkish-German private eye, which began with
Happy Birthday, Turk!
in 1985. An immediate success, it was filmed by the director Doris Dörrie in 1992 and subsequently published by No Exit in 1995.

The final Kayankaya novel,
Brother Kemal
, which Arjouni wrote against the terrible knowledge of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, will be published this summer by No Exit alongside reissues of the earlier books in the series.

Arjouni's fascination with detective fiction was shaped by external influences. Two of his literary heroes were Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon. From the American, he took the figure of the private eye as a flawed but honest outsider; from the Belgian, he learned the importance of psychological characterisation.

But while these mentors clearly informed the creation of Kayankaya, with the detective's status as the son of Turkish immigrants giving a fresh twist to the tradition of the investigator as an odd one out, Arjouni brought to the form an eye for social and historical detail that was entirely his own.
(2001) deals with the consequences in Europe of the Balkan wars, while
One Man, One Murder
(1992), which won the German Crime Fiction prize, has a background of sex trafficking. Characteristically, the final Kayankaya book explores the limits of free speech and religious tolerance as the private eye protects an author under death threat from Islamists at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Born in Frankfurt as Jakob Michelsen (Arjouni was a pseudonym), he had an early literary role model: his father, Hans Günter Michelsen, was a successful dramatist and Jakob wrote a number of early plays before settling on the novel as his preferred form. His father gave him inadvertent but invaluable research for his future crime stories because of a fondness for taking his family to restaurants in an area of the city that was in the process of transition from red-light district to international quarter. Pungently seedy details of the rougher parts of Frankfurt are a particular feature of the Kayankaya books.

While the Kayankaya novels were the basis of his initial reputation and income, they appeared at very wide intervals. Arjouni was prolific between them.
Magic Hoffmann
(1996) was a story of bohemians in Berlin planning a bank robbery.
Chez Max
(2009) was generally considered one of the most original and thoughtful fictional responses to 9/11: it was set in a dystopian Europe in 2064, where a fenced-off community hides from terrorism and unrest. The powerful English translation was by his regular interpreter in the UK, Anthea Bell.

Modest, blazingly intelligent and thoughtful, his work both inside the crime genre and beyond it makes Jakob Arjouni a formidable figure in modern German literature.

Mark Lawson

Jakob Arjouni: 1964-2013

Praise for Jakob Arjouni

‘It takes an outsider to be a great detective, and Kemal Kayankaya is just that' –

‘A worthy grandson of Marlowe and Spade' –

‘Jakob Arjouni writes the best urban thrillers since Raymond Chandler'- 

‘There is hardly another German-speaking writer who is as sure of his milieu as Arjouni is. He draws incredibly vivid pictures of people and their fates in just a few words. He is a master of the sketch – and the caricature – who operates with the most economic of means' –
Die Welt, Berlin

‘Kemal Kayankaya is the ultimate outsider among hard-boiled private eyes' –
Marilyn Stasio, New York Times

‘Arjouni is a master of authentic background descriptions and an original story teller' –
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

‘Arjouni tells real-life stories, and they virtually never have a happy ending. He tells them so well, with such flexible dialogue and cleverly maintained tension, that it is impossible to put his books down' –
El País, Madrid

‘His virtuosity, humour and feeling for tension are a ray of hope in literature on the other side of the Rhine' –
Actuel, Paris

‘Jakob Arjouni is good at virtually everything: gripping stories, situational comedy, loving character sketches and apparently coincidental polemic commentary' –
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich

‘A genuine storyteller who beguiles his readers without the need of tricks' –
L'Unità, Milan

Magic Hoffmann
Jakob Arjouni
Translated from the German
by Geoffrey Mulligan



The thousand mark notes fluttered like swallows, turning circles against the setting sun. When Fred whistled through his fingers, they flocked down and slipped back into his trouser pocket.

‘It's nonsense,' said Nickel and tore Fred from his dreams.

They lay in the grass with a case of apple wine between them. The sun was shining.

Fred muttered with his eyes closed: ‘We could pay our debts and go to Canada - that's what you're always wanting to do.' He opened his eyes and blinked against the blue sky. ‘All for just half an hour's ... work.'

Nickel lay propped up on one elbow gazing over fields and meadows at the village below. Thirty metres away Annette was standing by the fence, stroking a calf and pouring apple wine down its throat. The calf seemed to like it. The other cows were watching the proceedings curiously.

‘You could buy that thingamajig,' said Fred, ‘that camera thing ... you know ...'

‘The lens.'

‘Exactly. And a whole lot of other stuff. A complete kit. You could take fabulous photos of Canadian forests and ice hockey players and whatever else they've got over here. You'll be famous, and in twenty years no one will ask if you once robbed a bank in Oberroden.'

‘Fabulous photos ... of prison maybe.'

Nickel finished the bottle, put the empty back in the case and fished out the next one. His movements were as clear and precise as ever, as if he wanted to demonstrate once and for all the replacing and removing of apple wine bottles.

‘We're hardly going to get to Canada by hanging around and doing waiting jobs at the weekend.'

Fred grabbed a bottle as well. The calf had downed the first bottle, and Annette was raising a second to its lips.

‘And you,' asked Nickel, ‘what do you want with the money?'

‘Presumably eating and drinking costs a few pfennigs in Canada as well.'

‘Two hundred thousand marks is a lot of pfennigs.'

Fred shrugged. ‘For me it's enough just to have the money.'

‘And then?'

‘Nothing then.'

‘I don't get it.'

‘In interviews with rich celebrities you always hear how money isn't important to them, but they'd use it to live on. With me it's the opposite: I don't need much to live on, but I like having it. In the cupboard or under the bed. I like touching it, counting it, looking at the date...' he took a slug, ‘and apart from that we need living expenses, a Jeep, bear traps, that sort of thing.'

‘Bear traps!'

Nickel laughed. But at the same time a shiver of longing ran through him as he imagined the three of them in Canada. Vancouver, a house on the sea, endless forests, photos published in international magazines.

Annette returned with the empties under her arm. She was wearing a red summer dress with yellow spots. Against the background of the green field she looked like a large flower. A gently swaying flower. She threw the bottles onto the grass and herself down beside them. ‘Well?' she asked, looking from one to the other.

‘I'd like to know,' mumbled Nickel, ‘why you of all people reckon to have just discovered the perfect bank robbery, in Dieburg of all places. People have been trying it for centuries.'

‘If Einstein had thought like that he would have ended up a peasant,' said Annette sniffily, and she closed her eyes and turned her face luxuriously towards the sun. ‘As soon as I can speak English properly I'm going to drama school in Canada.'

They drank apple wine and forged plans. The plans became vaster and more colourful, the bank robbery smaller and simpler, the case of apple wine emptier. They laughed as they watched the calf staggering round the field, mooing ever more exuberantly, and Nickel suddenly became convinced: the world belonged to them, and the bank belonged to the world.


When Fred returned home that evening and sat down to dinner, Grandma Ranunkel said, as she was dishing up the stuffed cabbage and potatoes: ‘You look just like your father did when he was up to no good.' She was wearing her green and yellow striped dress, a dark apron and the brown cardigan which had been mended a hundred times. Her grey hair was, as usual, severely combed back and piled into a bun.

‘I've found work , Grandma.'

‘Well?' Not very convinced.

Fred nodded, ‘And it's a skilled job.'

Grandma Ranunkel lowered her spoon and eyed him sceptically from behind thick glasses.

‘Skilled? At what?'

‘At…well, there's no real word for it. I'd call it…' he reflected, ‘winning the lottery, but without the lottery.'

‘I beg your pardon?'

‘Well…' he contemplated the steaming cabbage, ‘…someone dreams of becoming a rock star or travelling round the world. For example Nickel would like to go to Canada and become a photographer, but secretly he believes that he'll never really do it, and then I come along.'

Grandma Ranunkel frowned. ‘And?'

‘I develop strategies for people so that they can at least try,' and he added casually, ‘for payment of course.'

Grandma Ranunkel's face assumed an expression of pity.

‘Who would pay for such a thing?'

‘You'll see. Next Friday is my first consultation, and with the fee we can both go…'

‘But,' she interrupted, ‘who has employed you and where?'

‘It works by advertisements; I'll explain later.'

Shaking her head Grandma Ranunkel sat down opposite him at the table. ‘What kind of nonsense is this, child?'

‘Don't worry, Grandma , it's a job with a future…'

Four years later Fred was released from Dieburg juvenile prison.

BOOK: Magic Hoffmann
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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