The Pledge by Frederich Dürrenmatt





















The Pledge by Frederich Dürrenmatt

Swiss fiction

Original title – Das Versprechen

Translator – Joel Agee

Source – personal copy

I move on my german lit month reading to a new to me writer and a book that I have had a while and wanted to read. Frederich Durrenmatt was a multi-talented writer his theatre was often compared to that of Bertolt Brecht he was called the most original theorist. He was a critic of crime fiction and with this book he had worked on a crime script that he felt hadn’t a realistic ending this is the work he wrote as a result of the subtitle goes a requiem for the detective novel.

Matthai had a hard time making senseof that jumbled report, the chief continued. “it was one of his old “clients” calling from Magendorf, a little hole in the wall near Zurich. The man was a peddlar named Von Gunten. Matthai wasn’t really in the mood to take this up this case on his last afternoon on his job. He had already brought his plane ticket, he’d be leaving in three days. But I was away at a conference of police chiefs and wasn’t expected back to the evening.

How Matthai is drawn in the case is by chance and meant his carreer never really ends

The book starts with a crime writer meeting the former head of Zurich Cantonal police who criticized his works as he says Chance plays no role in his works. So the writer then thinks up a new story and that is the main bases of the book that follows lieutenant Matthai. He is sent to find the killer of a small girl in a small town. The girl Gritli Moser was found in the woods killed with a razor. Matthai has to tell the parents about the loss of their small girl  . The crime was reported by von Gunten who found her but he is later convicted of something else and is connected to the two girls that earlier died in a similar way to Griti he is interviewed He then confesses. Matthai is just about to leave when he is drawn in another way by this case that initially then seemed shut as the young girl is buried but there is also the young girl’s drawings in the weeks and days before her death with images that may be known she may have known her killer? Matthai made a promise to get the killer and ends up running a petrol station to finally sort this case out or is it just a wild goose chase for this serial killer.

Back in Magendorf, Matthai met with his first difficulty. The emergency squad’s large van had driven into the village and was waiting for the inspector. The scene of the crim and its immediate vicinty had been carefully searched and cordoned off . Three plainclothes policemaen were hiding in the woods. Their assignment was to observe the passerbys. The rest of the squad was taken back to the city.

The other old crime novel cliche of the killer return ing to the scene of the crime here .

This shows the foibles of crime fiction and that is chance the obvious story Von Gunten fits that old inspector  Morse line that the person that finds the body may also be the killer. There is the picture pf the young girl that leads them in another direction what is the meaning of the hedgehog? What happens when you have got a confession and it was the wrong man it shows how someone can be haunted by that giving it all up to trap this killer to have that petrol station it is a strange twist in this book that shows how far one man will go with his pledge to the mother of the dead child. This is a book that reminds me of Paul auster at times another writer that has taken a different twist in his detective fiction this is a postmodernist crime novel that twists the tales and characters as far as you can. It has been made into a film I haven’t seen the recent us version but I believe it cuts a lot of the framing device out and resets the book in the US. The English version from the 90s seems near to the book and it has Richard E Grant in so I hope to watch that at some point.  Have you read this book? what do you think of the twists and turns in it ?

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mytwostotinki
    Nov 05, 2019 @ 05:37:15

    D. was one of the few “serious” German-language authors who worked also in this genre, which he tried to rehabilitate after WWII. I remember, we read this one and The Judge and his Hangman in school. While The Judge and his Hangman and Suspicion are strongly influenced by Friedrich Glauser’s Studer novels, The Pledge is as you pointed out correctly, a postmodernist crime novel (or Requiem for the crime novel, as D. puts it.) Interesting review, Stu! And an author that is worth exploring more in depth. By the way, there is also a German film based on the novel (director Ladislao Vajda, with Heinz Ruehmann and Gert Froebe), title “Es geschah am hellichten Tag” (It happened in broad daylight, 1958).


    • mytwostotinki
      Nov 05, 2019 @ 05:42:47

      I forgot to mention that The Pledge was actually written after the screenplay by D. for above-mentioned film. The end of the novel differs greatly from the one of the movie (the film producers insisted on a “successful” ending with which D. wasn’t happy at all).


  2. MarinaSofia
    Nov 05, 2019 @ 09:33:06

    He really pushes the limits of the crime genre as far as they will stretch!


  3. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Nov 05, 2019 @ 10:08:55

    I haven’t read this one, though I’ve read a couple of his other titles. As Marina says, he stretched the genre and I do like his books. Very dark! 😀


  4. Vishy
    Nov 05, 2019 @ 15:53:51

    I loved this book! I remember reading three books by Dürrenmatt back-to-back. Loved your review! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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November 2019


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