Friedrich Dürrenmatt has been published in over 49 languages worldwide and is considered one of the greatest post-war German language writers.
Originally published in the UK in 1959, The Pledge is Dürrenmatt’s most famous novel. It’s a psychologically taut thriller which will frustrate anyone who likes their conclusions neatly wrapped up. In fact, the original subtitle for the book read ‘Requiem for the Detective Novel’.
Human obsession and random absurdity stalk the world of The Pledge; readers helplessly watch as the chief investigator of a series of child murders in the alpine Swiss countryside deteriorates in front of their eyes. His ultimately fruitless preoccupation with the clues and patterns of the case eating away at his mind, causing him to slowly spiral into mute insanity.
Originally written as a TV film titled Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight), Dürrenmatt felt the formulaic conclusion – in which the murderer is caught by the inspector – gave a false impression of the realities of the world and so wrote The Pledge with a different, far more frayed and disturbing ending. He puts his frustrations into the mouth of The Pledge’s narrator:
You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: all the detective need 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.
A film version did eventually materialize, however, in a 2001 American mystery drama starring an ensemble cast that included Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, and Benicio del Toro.
Pushkin will be publishing more of Dürrenmatt’s scintillating crime fiction later this year. Look out for Suspicion and The Judge & his Hangman – collectively known as The Inspector Barlach Mysteries – which have been described as anticipating ‘the postmodern fictions of Paul Auster and other contemporary neo-noir novelists’.