13 September 2011

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Austria: Friedrich Glauser & Paulus Hochgatterer

Friedrich Glauser's claim to being Austrian comes from the fact that he was born in Vienna in 1896.
However he generally wrote in a Swiss/German dialect.
He is most famous for creating Sergeant Studer.
Wachtmeister Studer, Zürich 1936; English translation: Thumbprint, 2004

Here is my review of THUMBPRINT, written back in 2008.

THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser, ISBN 1-904738-00-1, 199pp

Originally published in 1936 (Swiss German??), translated in to German in 1995, first published in English in 2004 by Bitter Lemon Press.

Sergeant Studer has been asked to arrest Erwin Schlumpf on suspicion of having murdered his fiance’s father. The body of Wendelin Witschi, merchant and travelling salesman from Gerzenstein, has been found in the forest, shot in the head behind the ear. For reasons really unknown to himself, having delivered the prisoner to Thun Castle only an hour so previously, Studer returns to find the young man hanging by the neck from a leather belt tied around the window bars. He is in time to save Schlumpf’s life.

The case of murder appears to be an open and shut one, but to Studer, an aging sergeant and unlikely detective, things don’t seem right, and of course they are not. Studer gets himself assigned to the case by almost blackmailing the magistrate who originally thought the facts clearly showed Schlumpf’s guilt. This is a very satisfying whodunit, with lots of the elements of the more modern whydunnits.

Bitter Lemon Press tells us that Glauser is often referred to as the Swiss Simenon.
What strikes you as you read THUMBPRINT is how well it has stood the test of time. It is set in the early 1930s but none of those “older novel” characteristics that you find in many Golden age English crime novels are there. That of course may be because it has been translated into English only recently, and so it is closer to modern idioms.

My rating: 4.6

There were 5 books in the Sergeant Studer series that were translated into English.

Glauser's name is perpetuated in the Glauser prize one of Germany's best-known crime writing awards.

Paulus Hochgatterer was born in 1961 in Amstetten, Lower Austria. Following studies in medicine and psychology, he lives today as a writer and child psychoanalyst in Vienna, directing as well the Institute for Educational Assistance in Vienna-Floridsdorf. His literary works include the novel Über Raben (2002) and the novella Eine Kurze Geschichte zum Fliegenfischen (2003). Hochgatterer’s literary awards include the Elias Canetti Stipendium (2001). He lives with his family in Lichtenau, Austria.

Quercus, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84724-389-8, 248 pages, translated from German by Jamie Bulloch.
Originally published in Germany in 2006 as Die Süße des Lebens.

A little girl is playing Ludo with her grandfather, having cocoa, when the door bell rings. It is Christmas time, the presents have been opened, but Ludo is a game she and her grandfather always play. Grandfather goes to the door, talks to someone there, gets his coat, and goes out.

Opposite, its windows lit up, is the house where the little girl and her family live. When her grandfather doesn't come back the little girl puts on her new green quilted jacket with the squirrel on it and goes out to find him. She follows footprints and finds her grandfather's body on the ramp that leads into the barn. There is no doubt it is his body, the clothes are right, but his head has been squashed flat. The little girl goes home and says nothing for the next few days.

The body is not discovered until the next morning. In part THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE is about the solving of the crime, but there are other themes that almost take over: an exploration of the damage done to children by unexpected trauma, by violence and cruelty, and pain inflicted by their parents and their elders.

I liked the way this novel is structured. Hochgatterer employs a number of narrators, but the reader is not always automatically sure who the narrator is until a few pages have passed. So you work hard looking for clues about the identity of the mind you are seeing events through. Is it Joseph Bauer, the Benedictine monk who teaches at the local school, conducts services, listen to music on his iPod, and runs to quell his personal demons? Or Raffael Horn, the psychoanalyst to whom the little girl is taken to see if he can unlock her mind? Or Kovacs the policeman, or Bjorn whose cruel and perverted brother Daniel has recently returned from reform school? And there are many more damaged people living in this seemingly quiet and normal Austrian village.

You've probably gathered by now that I really enjoyed THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE.

My rating: 4.6

Take a look at other blog posts in this week's Crime Fiction on a EuroPass.

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