BERNHARD Schlink’s 1997 novel, The Reader, is, for me, one of the best novels of the past decade – a profound, moving story of guilt, judgment, history and human nature. It was a deserved international bestseller, and made Schlink, who is a judge and professor of law, a writer with a powerful reputation. But in his native Germany, he was known as a writer of crime novels before The Reader burst on the scene.
Self’s Deception, published in Germany in 1992, is one of Schlink’s novels dealing with private eye Gerhard Self. Now elderly, he was a public prosecutor under the Nazis – the issues that have faced Germans for the past three-quarters of a century are an integral part of Schlink’s writing – and now prefers to work purely on his own account. He is hired by the mysterious father of a missing young woman to find her. But his contact with the father is entirely over the phone, and Self soon begins to suspect that all is not as it seems – he is being used.
The story touches on terrorism, both contemporary and dating back to the sixties and seventies when Germany was rocked by the activities of the Bader-Meinhof gang. It also deals in environmental concerns, and secrets from a murky past. Self is a likeable, flawed hero. He has a sense of humour, and no illusions about either his nature or his capabilities. His personal view of what is right and what is wrong is always going to put him in an awkward position with the authorities, but ensures him the sympathy of his readers. I hope more of his adventures are going to be translated into English.