Something Is Rotten in Fettig, by Jere Krakoff. It’s easy to imagine a former civil-rights attorney who’s worked extensively in the criminal-justice system writing a book inspired by the experience. But you might not foresee the result as this comic burlesque of a novel. It takes place in the fictional republic of Fettig, a setting that could pass for a circa-1900 Lower East Side. It’s populated by European ethnic types including protagonist Leonard Plotkin, a Jewish butcher who despite his “pathological aversion to conflict” ends up facing trial on absurd criminal charges.
With its wide-angle aim at a deranged republic’s corrupt institutions, and its feel for a punchline, Something Is Rotten (Anaphora Literary Press, 265 pages, $20), is hardly the earnest treatise you might expect from a lawyer whose résumé includes (as Pittsburgh resident Krakoff’s does) the ACLU National Prison Project and a local legal-aid program. Instead, the novel is sort of Dickens by way of Woody Allen, featuring characters with names like Emile Threadbare and Primo Astigmatopolous, and a writing style and approach to jokes that suggests Allen’s satirical short stories. (One artist character, for instance, is described as “an untalented abstractionist who occasionally sold her impenetrable works to customers who appreciated confusion.”) Each chapter begins with one of Krakoff’s own caricatures of this highly populous novel’s main character, all adding to the impression of a society where palms are greased and egos readily flattered, but justice is seldom served.
Oktober Heat, by Doris Dumrauf. The title of this self-published novel suggests something in the Tom Clancy vein. But while the plot does involve murder and the military, Oktober Heat ($12.99) is a quieter affair, about a young German police officer investigating the murder of a young German woman in the U.S.-occupied provinces during the late 1950s. As a procedural, it’s stylistically more Hardy Boys than hardboiled, but the real attraction is Dumrauf’s sensitive rendering of postwar Germany, where a community of war widows and financially struggling young Germans copes with a sudden influx of American military personnel, with their ready cash and rock ’n’ roll records. Dumrauf comes by her perspective honestly: This Pittsburgh resident grew up in a region of West Germany with a big concentration of U.S. military facilities, and for years worked as an administrative clerk on an air base.