Country Focus: Austria (Öesterreich in German)
Brenner and God
By Wolf Haas
Translated by Annie Janusch
Originally published in German as Brenner und der liebe Gott by Hoffman und Campe Verlag, 2009.
My edition: Melville House, 2012.
Time period: Contemporary
Simon Brenner’s new job chauffeuring a toddler should be a relaxing change of pace from the detective work he used to do. He ferries two-year-old Helena Kressdorf between her mother’s abortion clinic in Vienna, her father’s construction headquarters in Munich, and his cabin in Kitzbühel.
Brenner usually buys gas before picking up Helena, but today he notices the gauge hovering near Empty. He pulls into the nearest station, pumps the fuel and decides to treat Helena to a chocolate bar. When he exits the store, Helena is gone.
Who has taken her? Does the woman who shows up on the the gas station surveillance camera know anything? How about Sebastian Knoll, the threat-making leader of the right-to-lifers who are attempting to shut down Frau Kressdorf’s abortion clinic? Or did an opponent of MegaLand, Herr Kressdorf’s controversial new building project that threatens Vienna’s beloved Prater Park, abscond with the girl?
The Kressdorfs promptly fire Brenner for his gross negligence, but his protective and detective instincts kick in…he will do everything he can to find his sweet little passenger, even if it means risking his own life.
That isn’t saying much. Brenner is a pill-popping (we’re never told what pills he’s taking, but they weigh heavily on his mind and are a convenient excuse for whatever goes wrong in his life), Jimi Hendrix-loving, chronic bumbler. Too bad Brenner and God’s goofball humor suffers under Janusch’s awkward translation. I often felt like Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation who was unable to identify a joke.
Apparently Brenner and God is more enjoyable in its native language. The German-speaking world loves Simon Brenner; the seven books in the series have spawned three popular movies and have won their author several prizes. So look out, international mystery lovers – a translation of Haas’s The Bone Man is due out in 2013. Like fellow Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wolf Haas can legitimately say: I’ll be back.
Watch closely: believe it or not, there on the bottom of the cesspit Brenner met the good lord. Of course it was a surprise, don’t even ask. Well, for Brenner a surprise, not for the good lord of course. He smiled benevolently from the other side of the cesspit, which seemed about as far away to Brenner now as the other end of a swimming pool. But regardless, no doubt who the man was. The very fact that he glowed. Iridescent understatement! You can’t even imagine what a Hello that was for Brenner. Because first of all, he never really expected to meet the good lord even once – and if he did, then he expected a nice setting, with trumpets, with fanfare, withe candlelight, with menus, with virgins, and, and, and. But no, Brenner thought – and he had to do a double take, he was so surprised to meet him in this unseemly place – in a cesspit, covered in seven feet of shit, I meet the good lord.