Book Review: Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni


At the time of his death from pancreatic cancer the seeds had already been sown for bringing Jakob Bothe’s work to a wider audience. An important figure within post war German crime fiction, Bothe wrote under the pseudonym Jakob Arjouni and had his first novel published at the relatively young age of 20. Most of the printed work centres around the private detective Kemal Kayankaya introduced in Boethe’s debut Happy Birthday Turk!. Whilst fighting the condition which ultimately took his life Bothe continued to work on a final Kayankaya novel, Brother Kemal, which has recently been published by No Exit Press alongside already planned new editions of the previous books in the series.

A self-confessed fan of Raymond Chandler, Bothe created a hero (or anti-hero) cut from the same cloth as Phillip Marlowe who was relevant to a Germany finally shaking off the shackles of post war physical and existential trauma whilst simultaneously undergoing a transformation into a modern industrious powerhouse. With Kemal Kayankaya, Bothe constructed a flawed champion who stood slightly removed from the society he was protecting and was viewed askance by locals suspicious of the migrant population helping to forge the new Germany.

In this première outing for Kayankayaa the body of Turkish worker Ahmed Hamul is found in the centre of Frankfurt’s red-light district. Hired by the widow to investigate the case, Kemal Kayankaya has to confront institutional indifference in the form of the police’s unwillingness to scrutinize the death of an immigrant. Ethnically Turkish and culturally German, Kemal feels cast drift in a land in which prejudice is ever present. A lone wolf thrust into a world of drug users and prostitutes, he’s aided by a retired policeman who knows far too much and yet reveals very little.

Mixing tropes from the American hard boiled tradition with sociological analysis of how Germany treated the migrant community in the mid 1980s Happy Birthday Turk! introduced an important voice into the cannon of European crime fiction who would continue to use the genre as a means to explore social and political changes in subsequent books.

Happy Birthday, Turk! Can be ordered from Amazon:


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