I’m not sure I can call myself a fan of Austrian literature after having read only one Austrian author, but ask me to recommend a German language novel, and I would bully you into reading Wolf Haas. Now, much to my whole family’s delight, Austria has a new literary darling. A writer, pianist and singer, Thomas Raab is a busy person who’s just released his fifth novel featuring Metzger (known as “der Metzger” in that lovely Austrian way of calling even your best friends by their last names, complete with article. It’s one of the many, many things that are near impossible to translate, which means it should be a while until any of you people will be able to actually read those books. Unless you learn German and go live in Austria, of course.) But I digress. Willibald Adrian Metzger, middle-aged and unhurried, is a restorer in Vienna, and as such not exactly predestined for a life as a criminal investigator. His best friend happens to be a policeman, though, and this is how it makes total sense that Willibald gets to deal with the odd murderer.
Der Metzger holt den Teufel starts innocently enough with Metzger falling victim to a pickpocketing youth, but soon things spiral out of control, people get chased, murdered and humiliated, and the novel takes a very sombre turn. It’s the fourth novel in the series, but it doesn’t take long to catch up on the various backstories. What makes this novel (and presumably the other four) special is Raab’s use of language. Where Wolf Haas, the other Austrian, uses his protagonists muddled stream of consciousness to exhilarate the reader, Raab delivers sentences that are filed and polished to absolute perfection. They are clever and funny, use all kinds of stylistic devices, and make you want to cross-stitch them to hang above your bed. As a result, reading a Metzger novel takes a while. You simply cannot rush through, because Raab is especially fond of using clever synonyms for everyday words, turning the simplest descriptions into cryptic clues. Two teenagers romancing on a park bench under a tree inspire a sentence that uses phrases like seating-accomodation and orbital as if it was the only way to describe the scene. It’s never pretentious though, because Metzger is a loveable character. He’s that relic of a less hurried time that makes for a good investigator (think Wallander or Adamsberg), and the language adds to this slowing of pace. At the same time, Raab is a sharp observer of social problems and modern life, as well as an artist. Der Metzger holt den Teufel is more than just another crime novel, and I can’t wait to devour the other four – at a reasonable pace, of course.