Everybody Knows The Punishment: On Jordan Harper and Ferdinand von Schriach

Everybody Knows The Punishment: On Jordan Harper and Ferdinand von Schriach

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EVERYBODY KNOWS by Jordan Harper

Jordan Harper's third novel boasts a formidable lists of blurbs. Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Dennis Lehane, James Patterson, Steph Cha and that’s only half of them. In addition to which, the entirety of my Twitter feed was excited and complimentary; people who hate each other on there came together on this book, providing a rare Kum Bah Yah moment. All of which is the perfect set-up for a lukewarm review, but the thing is, I loved it too. Count me in.

Centred around a Hollywood ‘crisis publicist’ and an ex-cop investigating the murder of a colleague, Harper does a great job updating old L.A. noir tropes in Everybody Knows, hitting the market/sentiment/vibe of the 2020s perfectly. The magic of the book is how seamlessly he layers one over the other. It gives the jolt of classic noir (lots of incident, hardboiled characters, sleaze, one-liners) and then punches you right in the guts with why does this still work in 2023? Answer: because L.A. is eternally corrupt and fucked-up. The characters here refer to it as the beast.

Everybody Knows is one of the few novels I’ve read in recent years that I wanted to be longer and more expansive. This story world of this could be a whole career, and I’m glad to hear that Harper is working on a sequel.

PUNISHMENT by Ferdinand von Schirach

Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach is one of my favourite books. A bestseller in Schirach’s home country, but rarely stumbled across in Australia (Text Publishing issued a translation in 2011), Crime is a collection of eleven supposedly true stories encountered as part of Schirach’s legal practice. It’s a wild, gritty collection, true or not: funny, violent, perverse, sour and yet, strangely generous too. The true horror of it is how relatable the criminals are. The difference between them and the rest of us is a ‘thin layer of ice’ and ‘it’s very cold underneath.’ And thus the stakes are always very high.

Punishment, arriving this year, is Schirach’s third in the series. A second collection called Guilt was published in 2012. I’m not going to detail the shape of Punishments stories or do the rest of it. I just want to tell you two things instead.

I loved the new book almost as much as the first. It’s a classic.

And here’s the pitch I give people when they come to my house and ask after a book and I hand them Crime:

There’s a story in here about a security guard who — through a terrifying mishap of German bureaucracy and politeness — stands guard over the Gustav Eberlein statue Dornauszieher (below) for a decade. Same man, same room, year on end, staring at this statue. Dornauszieher means ‘thorn puller’. And then…the police start investing a weird crime happening in Berlin: someone is dropping drawing pins in public places.


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