Extensive re-run of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on now!

Thanks to Andy Lawrence for spotting that BBC Radio 4 is re-running episodes from Mark Lawson’s excellent ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on BBC Radio Four extra and BBC iPlayer Radio. Most episodes will be available online for a month following broadcast, and offer 15-minute opportunities to delve into the work of key crime writers and traditions from around the world.

foreign-bodies

The ‘Foreign Bodies’ series are close to my heart for their celebration of international crime fiction, their focus on some of our most interesting detective figures, and their analysis of how crime fiction is used to explore important political and social issues. I was also lucky enough to contribute to two episodes in Series 1 – on the works of Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Jakob Arjouni respectively.

Here’s a list of the ‘Foreign Bodies’ programmes you can listen to via BBC Radio iPlayer, either now or in the coming days. If you’re looking for some gems to add to your reading list, then these programmes are definitely for you.

Series 1, Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Series 1, Episode 2  Switzerland/Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt… with a contribution from Mrs Peabody)

foreign-bodies-barlach

Series 1, Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Series 1, Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Series 1, Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Series 1, Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh/Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Series 1, Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

Series 1, Episode 8  Spain: PI Pepe Carvalho (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán)

Series 1, Episode 9  UK: DCI Jane Tennison (Linda La Plante)

Episodes 10 to 15 are not yet listed as available, but they may well be soon – I’ll update if so (these include Montalbano/Italy, Kayankaya/Germany, Rebus/Scotland, Wallander and Salander/Sweden, Harry Hole/Norway and Fandorin/Russia).

foreign-bodies-spain

Series 3, Episode 1  Cuba: an exploration of fictional investigations of Cuba after the Castro revolution with Leonardo Padura, author of The Havana Quartet, and Caroline Garcia-Aquilera, a Cuban-American writing from exile in Miami.

Series 3, Episode 2  USA: Laura Lippman and Walter Mosley, the creators of private eyes Tess Monaghan and Easy Rawlins, discuss how they introduced the experience of women and black Americans into crime fiction dominated by men and a McCarthyite fear of outsiders.

Series 3, Episode 3  Poland: Zygmunt Miloszewski and Joanna Jodelka reflect on how Polish crime fiction depicts the country’s occupation by Nazis and Communists, the transition to democracy through the Solidarity movement and lingering accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

Series 3 Episode 4  Australia: Australia’s leading crime novelist, South African-born Peter Temple, discusses depicting a society shaped by both British colonialism and American power, and why Australian crime fiction should contain as few words as possible.

Series 3 Episode 5  Nigeria: Writers Helon Habila and C.M. Okonkwo discuss how a flourishing new tradition of Nigerian crime fiction explores British legacy, tribal tradition and the new “corporate colonialism” as global companies exploit the country’s mineral reserves.

******

Mark Lawson’s article on the first ‘Foreign Bodies’ series is also available via The Guardian: ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.

Advertisements

‘Crime Fiction in German’ book launch and giant Krimi giveaway

The book launch for Crime Fiction in German takes place on Thursday 14th April in Swansea, Wales. To celebrate this event, we’re having a giant Krimi giveaway.

25077429349_dcccfbfa56_o

Erich is very excited about the book launch

The giveaway includes two copies of Crime Fiction in German (University of Wales Press, 2016), which is the first volume in English to provide a comprehensive overview of German-language crime fiction from its origins in the early 19th century to the present day. *You can download a free chapter from the volume here*

We’re also giving away a wonderful selection of the Krimis featured in the volume, thereby showcasing the best of German-language crime in translation:

CFIG launch book collage

A selection from the giant Krimi giveaway

Sascha Arango, The Truth and Other Lies (Simon and Schuster, trans Imogen Taylor). A darkly humorous tale following the fortunes of the outrageous Henry Hayden. A modern-day homage to Patricia Highsmith by one of the screenwriters for the renowned TV crime series Tatort (Crime Scene).

Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Bitter Lemon Press, trans Mike Mitchell). Originally published in 1936, In Matto’s Realm is the second in the groundbreaking ‘Sergeant Studer’ series. Studer is shown investigating the escape of a murderer from a psychiatric institution, a setting that holds a dark mirror up to Swiss society.

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (Penguin, trans Michael Hofman). An extraordinary literary crime novel written in 1946, based on the genuine case of Elise and Otto Hampel, who were executed on charges of treason during the Nazi regime. Recently made into a film starring Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson and Daniel Brühl.

Auguste Groner, The Case of the Golden Bullet (Amazon, unknown trans). Groner was a pioneer of Austrian and women’s crime fiction, and created the first German-language police detective series. Joseph Müller investigates in this opening novella, originally published in 1892.

Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner (Bitter Lemon Press, trans John Brownjohn). A gripping psychological thriller and Frauenkrimi, which excavates the reasons for an explosion of violence by young mother Cora Bender one sunny summer afternoon.

Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (MacLehose, trans Jamie Bulloch). In this Austrian crime novel, Detective Ludwig Kovacs and psychiatrist Raffael Horn work on a murder case in which the only witness is a girl too traumatised to speak. Winner of the 2009 European Literature Prize.

Andrea Maria Schenkel, The Murder Farm (Quercus, trans Anthea Bell). A former resident returns to a village following a family massacre, and begins to piece together events via interviews with assorted villagers. A spare, chilling tale set in rural 1950s Germany. Winner of the German Crime Prize.

Ferdinand von Schirach, The Collini Case (Michael Joseph/Penguin, trans Anthea Bell). Barrister Caspar Leinen takes on a seemingly impossible case: his client, Fabrizio Collini, admits the murder of a rich German industrialist, but refuses to say why he committed the crime. A gripping courtroom drama that interrogates notions of justice.

Simon Urban, Plan D (Vintage, trans Katy Derbyshire). An ambitious novel that blends police procedural, detective novel and alternative history genres. Set in a 2011 in which the Berlin Wall still stands, it explores East-West tensions as the GDR teeters on brink of bankruptcy. A biting social satire.

25352091871_34555eb9c9_o

TO ENTER the giveaway and win one of the books above, write your name in the comment section along with the answer to this question –> What is the popular term for ‘crime novel’ in German?

A. Schwarzwaldkuchen

B. Krimi

C. Bratwurst

You can be anywhere in the world to enter – from Tenby or Tokyo to Tasmania. The closing date for entries is Sunday 17th April. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! See below for the winners!

26547055201_8d7ed5b9e1_k

There was a fantastic response the Great Krimi Giveaway, with nearly 100 entries from all over the world – and amazingly everyone got the answer right ;-). Thanks to everyone who took part. The twelve lucky winners are listed below. Congratulations!

Winners – please email me your postal address and I will send your book out to you (mrspeabody68 at yahoo.co.uk). 

THE WINNERS ARE……..:

  • John Grant (realthog) – Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies
  • Roberta Marshall – Aykol’s Hotel Bosphorus
  • Bill Selnes – Glauser’s In Matto’s Realm
  • Lucy Dalton – Glauser’s Fever
  • Annegret Harms – Fallada’s Alone in Berlin
  • Sebastian Raggio – Groner’s The Case of the Golden Bullet and Schenkel’s The Murder Farm (two for one because the Groner is short!)
  • Robert J (Robie) – Hammesfahr’s The Sinner
  • Bett Mac – Hochgatterer’s The Sweetness of Life
  • Beatriz Simonetti – von Schirach’s The Collini Case
  • Ankush Saikia – Urban’s Plan D
  • Georgie Kelley – Crime Fiction in German volume
  • Sarah Pybus – Crime Fiction in German volume
26519944262_ed91b23fb2_k

The faithful Krimi bag, from which the draw was made, with the pile of freshly won prizes

Mrs. Peabody gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the sponsors below, who have made this Krimi giveaway possible.

CFIG sponsors 1

CFIG sponsors 2

RIAH title high res

‘Crime Fiction in German’ publication day! With a FREE CHAPTER!

Today sees the publication of Crime Fiction in German by the University of Wales Press. For all us involved in writing and producing the book, this is a hugely exciting moment, not least because Crime Fiction in German is a genuine first: the first volume in English to give a comprehensive overview of German-language crime fiction from its origins in the early nineteenth century to the present day. And it’s World Book Day here in the UK as well – what could be finer?

To celebrate there’s a FREE introductory chapter available to all readers!

CFIG

About the book

  • Crime Fiction in German explores crime fiction from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the former East and West German states.
  • It investigates National Socialist crime fiction, Jewish-German crime fiction, Turkish-German crime fiction and the Afrika-Krimi (crime set predominantly in post-colonial Africa), expanding the notion of a German crime-writing tradition along the way.
  • It examines key areas such as the West German Soziokrimi (social crime novel), the Frauenkrimi (women’s crime writing), the Regionalkrimi (regional crime fiction), historical crime fiction and the Fernsehkrimi (TV crime drama). In the process, it highlights the genre’s distinctive features in German-language contexts. And yes, humour is one of them 🙂
  • It includes a map of German-speaking Europe, a chronology of crime publishing milestones, extracts from primary texts, and an annotated bibliography of print and online resources in English and German.
  • All quotes are given in English and German. No knowledge of German is required!
  • The contributors – Julia Augart (University of Namibia), Marieke Krajenbrink (University of Limerick), Katharina Hall (Swansea University), Martin Rosenstock (Gulf University, Kuwait), Faye Stewart (Georgia State University), Mary Tannert (editor and translator of Early German and Austrian Detective Fiction) – are all experts in the field of crime fiction studies.

Further details, including a table of contents, are available at the University of Wales Press website. The paperback is available from Amazon here.

Now read on for details of the FREE chapter!

25352091871_34555eb9c9_o

The Free Chapter

While Crime Fiction in German is an academic volume that hopes to be useful to scholars in the field, a key aim has been to make the book accessible to ALL readers with an interest in crime fiction. We’re aware that not everyone may be able to buy the volume (academic texts have smaller print runs and are mainly bought by university libraries, and therefore have a different pricing structure to mass-produced books). If not, one option is to ask the local library to order a copy. Another is to read on for a very special treat…

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can download Chapter One of Crime Fiction in German for FREE.

The chapter gives an overview of the volume and of the history of German-language crime fiction. It’s PACKED with criminal goodness, and thanks to the generous financial support of Swansea University, you can download from the university’s Cronfa research repository. And did I mention that it’s FREE?

❤ In return, we ask two tiny favours ❤

  • If you like the chapter and want to tell other people, please send them the link below rather than the actual PDF. Why? Because then we can track how many times the chapter has been downloaded. If there’s lots of activity, more ‘open access’ projects like this one may be funded in the future.
  • Secondly, if you download the chapter and have a moment, could you leave a comment below saying where you’re from? This will help us see how far the chapter has travelled. It could be rather fun – I’m looking forward to seeing if we can get ‘Leipzig, Germany’, ‘Moose Jaw, Canada’, and ‘Beijing, China’ all in a row.

Right, here we go! The link to the Crime Fiction in German Chapter One is

https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa25191

Enjoy and please spread the word!

Map of World

Tasty treats: Sherlock Holmes, Chinese crime, John le Carré and some publishing news

All sorts of interesting bits of crime news have come my way in the last couple of weeks…and are now gathered here for your delectation.

sherlock

A three-volume collection of over 60 new Sherlock Holmes stories appeared on 1st October, edited by David Marcum (MX Publishing). As well as being an absolute feast for Holmes fans, the collection supports a brilliant cause: all royalties will be used to fund preservation projects at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home, Undershaw. You can read more details of how the Undershaw rescue mission and new collection came about – a heady tale of determined fans, thwarted property developers and support from Mark Gatiss (co-creator of the TV drama Sherlock) – in this Radio Times article.

Thanks to Martin Rosenstock for alerting me to the new Sherlock adventures. Martin is one of the authors featured in the collection, and has also contributed an excellent chapter on Swiss crime fiction to our forthcoming Crime Fiction in German volume. In fact, he opens that chapter with a reference to Sherlock Holmes’ apparent demise at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, creating a rather lovely virtuous circle!

WU-Alum-Qiu-Xiaolong-book-covers-2

Chinese President Xi has been on the receiving end of a charm offensive during his recent visit to the UK, as various deals are sealed including a 25 billion pound nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in Somerset. So I was very interested to see this piece by Bruce Jacobs, entitled ‘Qiu Xiaolong’s Detective Chen novels give clues to unravelling the mysteries of China‘. I read the first in the Chen series, Death of a Red Heroine, a good while ago, and remember liking it, but hadn’t realised that there are now nine in the series. Jacobs shows how the Chen novels give ‘excellent insights into China from the time of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution to the present’, and, as the covers above indicate, explore the interaction of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Chinas. Thanks to Craig Sisterson for posting this piece on Facebook.

John le C

Regular readers to this blog will know that I am a huge John le Carré fan – you can read my appreciation of his novels here. A major new biography by Adam Sisman has just been published by Bloomsbury, which examines le Carré’s life and his career as a spy and writer in detail. There’s a long piece by Sisman in The Guardian today entitled ‘From cold war spy to angry old man: the politics of John le Carré’, which explores how the author’s political views have become more left-wing over time. Sisman uses a great German term to account for this – Alterszorn (the rage of age) – and provides some excellent insights into a number of le Carré’s novels. Well worth a read.

Untersetzer_100mm_04

‘My emergency plan: A Prosecco to wake up. Then an expresso with a shot. Around eleven, the first beer. And so on in stages’. Yours, Aunt Poldi

And finally, some publishing news generated by the Frankfurt book fair:

  • No Exit Press has acquired The Harbour Master and Night Market by Daniel Pembrey. They are the first and second installments of ‘The Amsterdam Quartet’ featuring police detective Henk van der Pol.
  • Bitter Lemon Press has acquired the English-language rights to the hilarious German crime novel Aunt Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, which will be published in 2016. Author Mario Giordano will be in London on 10th November at the Goethe Institut to talk about the book. It’s a free event – for further details see here.
  • Orenda Books has secured a three-book deal for Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu Botswana crime novels Deadly Harvest, A Death in the Family and Dying To Live.
  • And Orenda has also acquired World English Language rights for Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger’s next two titles in the ‘Henning Juul’ series, Coat of Arms and Mortal Wound.

Calling the hive mind! Looking for crime novels that feature Nazi war-crimes trials

***If you have a spare minute, I’d be really grateful for your help***

I’m currently writing up a journal article on war crimes trials in Nazi-themed crime fiction. I’m interested in how crime novels since 1945 represent war crimes trials in relation to larger debates about their judicial, social and moral value, and to what extent they show legal justice as succeeding or failing.

Legal_scale-300x270

I’ve identified around 50 Nazi-themed novels that focus extensively on the theme of post-war justice, but only a much smaller number that depict or discuss war crimes trials. So the question is, can you help me find more? Here’s what I’ve got at the moment:

Crime novels (and films) containing depictions of Nazi war crimes trials:

  • William Brodrick, The Sixth Lamentation. London: Time Warner, 2004 [2003].
  • Gordon Ferris, Pilgrim Soul. London: Atlantic 2013.
  • David Thomas, Ostland. London: Quercus, 2013.
  • Joseph Kanon, The Good German. London: Time Warner, 2003 [2001].
  • Judgement at Nuremberg, dir. Stanley Kramer, 1961.
  • Music Box, dir. Constantin Costa-Gavras, 1989.
AAA ostland

This novel explores the case of Georg Heuser and his 1963 trial in West Germany

Others that feature discussion of Nazi war crimes trials include:

  • Frederick Forsyth, The Odessa File. London: Arrow, 2003 [1972].
  • Gerhard Harkenthal, Rendezvous mit dem Tod [A Date with Death]. Berlin: Buchverlag der Morgen, 1962.
  • Edgar Hilsenrath, Der Nazi & der Friseur [The Nazi and the Barber]. Munich: Piper, 2000 [1977].
  • Ira Levin. The Boys from Brazil. New York: Dell Publishing, 1976.
  • Brian Moore, The Statement. London: Flamingo, 1996 [1995].
  • Ian Rankin, The Hanging Garden. London: Orion, 1998.
  • Ferdinand von Schirach, Der Fall Collini [The Collini Case]. Munich: Piper, 2011.

Can you think of any others? They can be from anywhere in the world and don’t necessarily need to be in translation. Thanks in advance for your help 🙂

Deutschi Crime Night and the ‘Crime Fiction in German’ volume

The wonderful Deutschi Crime Night took place yesterday at Waterstones Piccadilly. The panelists were Austrian author Bernhard Aichner, German author Sascha Arango, the acclaimed translator Anthea Bell, New Books in German editor Charlotte Ryland and me, with Euro Noir expert Barry Forshaw in the chair – who did us proud.

Embedded image permalink

Photo by Charlotte Ryland

The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating, and included the following: Sascha on his decision to set The Truth and Other Lies in a unidentifiable, universal space (like Nesser’s ‘van Veeteren’ series), in contrast to the regionally rooted writing he does for the Kiel episodes of the German TV crime drama Tatort (Crime Scene), and about the influence of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series on his writing; Bernhard on his creation of the ‘lovable serial killer’ Blum and the research he carried out for Woman of the Dead in a funeral home and at autopsies; Anthea on the process of translating the novel, which she really enjoyed, and on translating more generally, which she described as ‘finding the author’s voice’.

In addition, we took a canter through the crime fiction of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, discussing early German-language crime, crime greats from the Weimar period such as Fritz Lang’s M, Nazi crime fiction, Austrian crime fiction’s use of satire, Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s complex detective figures, and the boom in historical crime fiction since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (I drew on the forthcoming Crime Fiction in German volume when making my contribution to this portion of the discussion, of which more below). Charlotte filled us in on the work of New Books in German and some crime fiction coming our way soon, including the beguilingly entitled Der nasse Fisch (The Wet Fish) by Volker Kutscher and Melanie Raabe’s Die Falle (The Trap). She also helped us ponder the question of why German-language crime hasn’t quite had the breakthrough it deserves in the UK, with a publisher in the audience adding that she was confident it has the capacity to do so. A good boost would be provided by some German-language crime in the BBC4 Saturday crime slot…

Waterstones crime event

Anti-clockwise from front: Charlotte Ryland, Anthea Bell, Bernhard Aichner, Sascha Arango, Barry Forshaw, Mrs Pea (photo by Jennifer Kerslake)

Barry also kindly gave me the opportunity to talk about the Crime Fiction in German volume, which is out in March 2016 and will provide the first comprehensive overview in English of German-language crime from its origins in the 1800s to the present day. I’ve set up a tab about the volume here, and you can see further details on the University of Wales Press website. The volume is part of the UWP ‘European Crime Fictions‘ series, which already contains volumes on French, Italian, Iberian and Scandi crime.

The cover for the Crime Fiction in German volume has just been finalised and looks gorgeous. I love the psychedelic green (Schwarzwald on speed?) and the lashings of blood. And just look at those clever little bullet holes.

German CF cover final

Finally, as a few people from our lovely audience were asking for reading recommendations after the event, here are some past ‘Mrs. Peabody Investigates’ posts about German-language crime:

Alles Gute und viel Spaß!

Please do not adjust your sets

In a change to my normal academic routine, I’m embarking on research leave for a whole, glorious semester. The chance for this kind of leave comes around every three to four years, and is really invaluable, as it provides time to build up some proper momentum – in my case for writing up research on German and international crime fiction.

I’ll be focusing on two key projects. The first is a book, Detecting the Past: Representations of National Socialism and its Legacy in Transnational Crime Fiction. As the title suggests, it will explore how crime writers have depicted the Nazi period and its post-war legacy since 1945, exploring themes such as criminality, morality, justice, memory and guilt in larger historical, political and social contexts. One key area of interest is how ‘Nazi-themed crime fiction’ reflects the work of historians on the period. A recent example is David Thomas’ Ostland (Quercus, 2013), which draws on perpetrator studies by historians such as Christopher R. Browning to create a portrait of an ‘ordinary man’, police detective Georg Heuser, who comes to play an active part in the Holocaust. A compelling ‘psychological thriller’, the novel is also a sobering depiction of the mechanics of the Holocaust, and of the attempts to bring perpetrators to justice in the 1960s. It’s an excellent example of how history and the findings of historians can be made accessible to a wider public by harnessing the conventions and popularity of the crime genre. Incidentally, details of the 150 primary texts I’m working on can be found here – a number of which have been discussed on this blog over the past two years.

European Crime Fictions: Scandinavian Crime Fiction

My second project is to finish editing Crime Fiction in German, a volume of essays for the University of Wales Press, which will act as an introduction to the subject for an English-language audience. As well as exploring the development of crime fiction in Germany, Austria and Switzerland from the nineteenth century onwards, the volume examines German-language crime from a number of different angles: the crime fiction of the former GDR; regional crime fiction; women’s crime fiction, historical crime fiction; Turkish-German crime fiction; and the enduring popularity of TV series such as Tatort (Crime Scene). It’s the first time this kind of comprehensive overview will have been published in English, which is very exciting. The volume will join others in UWP’s European Crime Fiction series, such as French Crime Fiction (2009), Scandinavian Crime Fiction (2011) and Italian Crime Fiction (2011).

Focusing my energies on academic writing means that I’ll be blogging a little less than I usually do over the next few months. But I’ll still be popping up with recommendations now and then, so please do not adjust your sets! And normal service will most definitely be resumed…

Crime Scene: European crime fiction guides

I was having a stroll around the Crime Time website the other day, and ended up in an excellent section called Crime Scene, which profiles crime fiction on a country by country basis.

At the moment there are four Crime Scene guides – for France, Italy, The Netherlands and Switzerland (the latter includes info on Germany too) – and more will be added in future. They can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF, and provide a really useful overview of the respective countries’ crime scenes.

Simone van der Vlugt is one of the writers featured in The Netherlands guide

Each is written by an expert on the crime of the country in question, but all look at similar areas, under the guidance of series editor Bob Cornwell:

– a history of the country’s crime fiction

– recent publishing trends

– notable writers (often by category, e.g. police procedural, historical crime fiction)

– major crime prizes

– key publishers

– key suppliers, festivals and websites

– key reference works

I’m extremely impressed with these guides, which pack a lot of information into a relatively small space. Produced in conjunction with the International Association of Crime Writers, they provide a great resource for beginners and more advanced crime readers alike, and I look forward to seeing more in due course.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode guide…with a bit of Mrs. Peabody in #2!

Mark Lawson’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ series kicked off yesterday with an exploration of two seminal detectives from Belgium –  Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret. Val McDermid, Andrea Camilleri, P.D. James, Jakob Arjouni and Camilla Lackberg all joined Mark for a fascinating discussion about these two key investigative figures.

Today it was the turn of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Swiss detective Inspector Bärlach, featuring a contribution from your very own Mrs. P… Our discussion took in Dürrenmatt’s links to earlier Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser, Dürrenmatt’s exploration of the moral crisis facing Europe following the Holocaust, and his subversion of the detective genre to question the possibility of justice. The crime novels discussed included The Judge and his Hangman (Der Richter und sein Henker, 1950), Suspicion (Der Verdacht, 1951) and The Pledge (Das Verprechen, 1958).

Listings for the first 7 episodes are now up on the ‘Foreign Bodies’ website. They air Monday to Friday on Radio 4 at 13.45, and are then available online. For good measure, there’s an omnibus edition on Friday at 21.00.

Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Episode 2  Switzerland / Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt)

Image for Inspector Barlach

Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh / Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

You can also hear Bernard Hepton (who played Toby Esterhase in the BBC adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) begin his sublime Radio 4 reading of Dürrenmatt’s novella The Judge and his Hangman (available until 29 October).

Roseanna, the first of the Martin Beck dramatisations – will air on Radio 4 on Saturday 27 October at 14.30, but if you can’t wait, help yourself to this sneak preview.

Mrs. P’s review of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge is available here.

UPDATE 28 October: Mark Lawson has written an overview article about the ‘Foreign Bodies’ series for The Guardian entitled ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.

#21 Friedrich Dürrenmatt / The Pledge (first review of Swiss crime!)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge (Das Verbrechen), translated by Joel Agee (London: Penguin, 2001 [1958]). A master-class in crime writing that doubles as a meditation on obsession and the impossibility of closure 5 stars

 Opening sentence:  Last March I had to give a lecture in Chur on the art of writing detective stories.

There are very few crime novels that I keep coming back to, but The Pledge is one of them. Written over half a century ago in 1958, it’s one of three crime novels by the renowned Swiss dramatist and writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt (the others are The Judge and his Hangman (1950) and Suspicion (1951)). The Pledge is my favourite of the three, for its fine writing and penetrating critique of the crime genre. Its tantalising subtitle is Requiem auf den Kriminalroman or ‘Requiem for the crime novel’.

The Pledge tells the story of Swiss police inspector Matthäi, who just is clearing his desk prior to a secondment in Jordan when a young girl’s murder is reported. After breaking the news to the girl’s parents, Matthäi is asked by the mother to promise on his ‘eternal salvation’ that he will find the murderer, and this, after a brief hestitation, he does: the pledge of the title. Thus begins a long investigation, which eventually tips over into a personal obsession that will threaten Matthäi’s sanity (making him one of the most sympathetic investigative figures in the genre).

Matthäi’s tale is told to the figure of ‘the author’ by Dr. H, a former chief of police in Zurich, who was also once Matthäi’s boss. Dr. H is prompted to recount the story after attending the author’s talk on writing detective fiction, as a means of highlighting the ‘lies’ peddled by his work:

‘What really bothers me about your novels is the storyline, the plot. There the lying just takes over, it’s shameless. You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: here’s the criminal, there’s the victim, here’s an accomplice, there’s a beneficiary. And all the detective needs to know is the rules: he replays the moves of the game, and checkmate, the criminal is caught and justice has triumphed. This fantasy drives me crazy. You can’t come to grips with reality by logic alone. Granted, we police are forced to proceed logically, scientifically; but there is so much interference, so many factors mess up our schemes that success very often amounts to no more than professional luck and pure chance working in our favour. […] But you fellows in the writing game don’t care about that. You don’t try to grapple with a reality that keeps eluding us, you just set up a manageable world. That world may be perfect, but it’s a lie.’

So it’s the disjunction between the controlled fictions produced by ‘the author’ and the frustrating ‘reality’ of Matthäi’s troubled investigation that is the catalyst for Dr. H’s narrative – a wonderful ‘frame story’ that cheekily critiques the very genre the novel employs and implicitly wags a finger at all crime fiction fans for buying into its fantasy world.

As if all of this wasn’t clever enough, Dürrenmatt manages to have his cake and eat it too, by relating a story that thematises the impossibility of absolute closure and justice, but also provides the reader with a satisfying resolution in line with the expectations of the genre. Although of course, that could just be ‘the author’ meddling with the tale Dr. H told him…

The novel was adapted for film in 2001, directed by Sean Penn and with Jack Nicholson in the lead role. I have a copy on DVD which I mean to watch very soon! A highly positive Guardian review is available here.

Mrs Peabody awards The Pledge an ever-so-classy 5 stars.

Creative Commons License
.