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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Nameless Day

Friedrich Ani

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To purchase The Nameless Day

Title: The Nameless Day
Author: Friedrich Ani
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 283 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Nameless Day - US
The Nameless Day - UK
The Nameless Day - Canada
Der namenlose Tag - Deutschland
Il giorno senza nome - Italia
  • German title: Der namenlose Tag
  • Translated by Alexander Booth
  • Der namenlose Tag was made into a TV-film in 2017, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and starring Thomas Thieme

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Our Assessment:

B : a different sort of police procedural; fine characters-study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 2/9/2015 Peter Körte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ani versteht den Kriminalroman auch nicht als Plotmaschine, sondern als eine Perspektive, als ein seismographisches Instrument, mit dessen Hilfe sich etwas über die Gegenwart erfahren lässt, über „das Drama des in seinem Lebenszimmer gefangenen Menschen“. Sein Erzähltempo ist deshalb auch eher verhalten, bisweilen schleppend, weniger fixiert auf den straffen Spannungsbogen. (...) Es ist eine Geschichte von Schuld und Schweigen, von Gleichgültigkeit, Aufbegehren, Verdrängung und von einer Schwermut, die unter den Figuren grassiert wie ein Virus." - Peter Körte, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Friedrich Ani has written several crime series -- including one with almost two dozen books, featuring Tabor Süden -- and The Nameless Day is the first in yet another, this one featuring recently retired policeman Jakob Franck. Now sixty-one, he's been divorced for some twenty years and long lived a solitary life, his only hobby playing online poker. While on the job, he had assumed one of the duties that no one really liked doing: going to the homes of relatives to break the bad news when someone had died. He had a talent for it, and somehow fell into that role. (This notification-duty -- and the life-changing impact, from one moment to the next, of receiving the news -- is also what gives the book its title: as Franck sees it, "death always takes the name of those days away".)
       Retired for two months when the novel opens, a call out of nowhere leads him to look back into a case he had been involved in decades earlier. Ludwig Winther reaches out to him, convinced that twenty-one years earlier his then-seventeen-year-old daughter, Esther, hadn't committed suicide (by hanging, in a public park), but rather had been murdered. Broken by that event, and then the suicide of his wife, Doris, a year later, Ludwig only slowly got his life back together, and now has come forward; he picked the right man to go to, too: even though Franck is retired, he remembers the case well and, despite the original finding of suicide, he's willing to look into it again.
       Franck was the one who broke the news of Esther's death to Doris -- Ludwig was away that night -- and it was a memorable notification. Doris embraced him when she learnt the news -- and didn't let go for seven hours. This long hug -- which Franck never told anyone about -- still lingers in his memory too, and he recalls it repeatedly as he investigates the unusual case. It's a bit of an odd hook -- seven hours ? really ? -- but Ani makes it central in his story. Certainly, it suggests the empathy Franck has, as well as his willingness to be there, supportively, for others. Indeed, there's quite a lot of hugging in the novel. (It does all feel a bit forced, but Ani -- just -- manages to keep it from seeming entirely silly.)
       The Nameless Day is a retired-policeman procedural. Franck still has his contacts, and is able to get some additional information -- and DNA tests and the like -- from old colleagues, but mostly it's just him and his method. His retired -- i.e. outsider -- status also reïnforces the lone(r)-investigator feel to the whole case, as Ani doesn't have to bother with police bureaucracy or procedure: it's just Franck doing his thing. As to Franck's process: there's a bit of meditative intuition to it, but for the most part it's personal engagement -- conversation-cum-interrogation (and the occasional hug ...) -- with those who might have relevant information about what happened.
       It begins with the father, as Franck lets him have his say, but also draws him out about the events of so long ago. The forensic evidence points strongly to suicide, but a few odds and ends leave open the slight possibility that there was more to it. The biggest mystery is why the girl would have killed herself -- there was no note, and no one saw it coming. Her whereabouts earlier that afternoon had also never been established, so there were certainly still unaswered questions. Weighing also on Ludwig -- and, to some extent, Franck, too -- is the second blow that came a year after Esther's death, as the girl's mother killed herself. There's no doubt about that being suicide -- and there's a brutal last-words note to go with it.
       Methodically, Franck contacts and talks to those who might have information: Esther's aunt, whom she sometimes visited in Berlin; school friends; the woman who found the body; the dentist who lived nearby and was known to dally with some very young girls. Here The Nameless Day does feel very much like police procedural, information being gathered in conversation -- Franck taking many, many notes, and directing the conversations -- and Franck closing in on figuring out what took place that day.
       For quite a while it is less the seemingly straightforward circumstances of her death that Franck learns more about than the victim herself, the picture that emerges of Esther shaped and re-shaped over the course of his various conversations. Father Ludwig begins things with how he saw his little girl, but Franck comes to learn she was more complex. Beside the rumors that maybe the dentist had a thing with her, Franck learns of other accusations she made back then, complicating the picture. But the truth is even more complex. Franck understands: "Something in the distorted picture of all the inconsistent statements corresponded to the truth" -- and, patiently, carefully piecing it all together, Franck slowly gets to it.
       Ludwig is a still largely broken man, and others that Franck encounters seem to live in their various bubbles, creating worlds for and unto themselves, their memories of Esther's death shaping aspects of these. Franck, too, living his isolated life, is like that -- and part of this process is his reaching out not only to the witnesses from back when but also another woman in need he happens to meet, as well as his former wife. Set in his ways -- "Just like in the good old days you're suffering from your intuition", a former colleague recognizes -- there are no absolute resolutions in his personal life, but there are glimmers of sorts of hope, small steps of personal advancement.
       As to the case of Esther's death, resolution here too is not of the neatest sort, by mystery-book standards. But all along it's fairly clear that Ani's interest lies elsewhere -- not in simple whodunnit-resolution, but rather in considering the complexities of human interaction, and our failures, of understanding and otherwise, of even those seemingly closest to us.
       The Nameless Day actually opens with a chapter in the first person, an account of a brutal crime that doesn't seem, at first, to have anything to do with what happened to Esther. It's a long time in coming before it's clear who, and what, it involved -- though, yes, it too ultimately connects with the investigation into Esther's death -- another layer, another broken soul, all fitting together in the end. This technique -- the brief, almost prefatory chapter (often in the first person) that at first doesn't seem in any way to connect to the very different story that then follows, is an all-too-popular mystery-writing fad that really should have run its course many, many years ago. Yes, it 'works' here too, ultimately tying into the story -- but, really, mystery authors should stop relying on this very tired (and, honestly, incredibly annoying) plot-device.
       As a study of characters -- rather than straight-out mystery --, The Nameless Day is fairly successful, and though so many of these characters are a rather sad and sorry lot it is a fairly compelling read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2018

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The Nameless Day: Reviews: Der namenlose Tag - the TV film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Friedrich Ani was born in 1959.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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