10 May 2008

Hahndorf Band Festival, German crime fiction writers

Sitting in the Hahndorf Institute this afternoon listening to brass bands got me thinking about German crime fiction.

Hahndorf is a tourist town in the Adelaide Hills with a proud history and long connection to brass banding. Today 5 bands, including Enfield Brass (alias Klemzig Oompah) with which I am connected, participated in the 2008 Hahndorf Band Festival beginning with a street march, and then a concert this afternoon.

Thinking of German crime fiction leads me to remind you that the Carnival of Criminal Minds is at present being hosted by Internationale Krimis. The Carnival of Criminal Minds reminds me a little of Enid Blyton's MAGIC FARAWAY TREE. Every time you visited the top of the tree there was a different land hovering.

I must confess that I am not familiar with a great range of German crime fiction. When I was in Germany a little under 2 years ago, I did notice many crime fiction novels originally printed in English available as German translations, so I know crime fiction is very popular there.

However in the list that follows I'm taking a few liberties and including crime fiction titles I've read that have German settings. I included some when I wrote about the Schutzenfest back in january.

These all have a rating of better than 4.0 from me

Somebody doesn't want two big European companies to conduct a merger. An estimated 21,000 redundancies will occur if the merger goes ahead. So someone plants a bomb in the boardroom of ChemtexAG, a "fish tank" with walls of unbreakable glass, on the 33rd floor of a Frankfurt office tower. For the 16 directors of the two companies meeting in the room at the time, it is instant death, their remains coating the inside walls of the room just like paint. Interpol, in the person of one-legged Inspector Anders and his off-sider Matucci, are called in. A group called Judgement Day claim responsibility, and seems to have some sort of link with the German terrorism of the 1970s. A message from the terrorists identifies another proposed merger as the next target and suddenly Anders has a race against time on his hands. Not so much a mystery as a thriller, #2 in Marshall Browne's Inspector Anders series. The action moves between Brussels, Strasbourg, and Paris.

The setting is 1917 and the Great War grinds on, with the youth of the British Empire and Germany being sacrificed on the Somme. Douglas Kingsley, an inspector in His Majesty's Metropolitan Police in London, finds himself in gaol when he declares that the war offends his sense of logic. Rejected by his wife and condemned as a conscientious objector, Kingsley is sent to Flanders to investigate the murder of a British officer, also renowned as a poet. The setting in the war allows the author to ask questions about the importance of investigating the murder of one man when so much bloodshed is occurring all the time.

There are really two beginning points for this thriller/mystery. In the dying days of World War Two, a German tank convoy escorting a truck is intercepted by an American platoon. In the skirmish that follows most of the Germans are killed and the rest flee leaving the truck behind. Inside the truck is a single crate stencilled with the German eagle and swastika. The contents of this crate are pivotal to the rest of the story. The story then leaps to the present day. At 3 am Deborah Miller, curator of a small private museum in Atlanta, Georgia, is awoken by her third strange phone call for the night. This one sends her hurrying back to the museum which she had left only just after midnight after a successful promotional evening. At the museum, in a room she did not even know existed, she finds the body of Richard Dixon, her mentor and the museum's founder and director. On the shelves around the room is a treasure trove of what seem to be genuine Mycenaean antiquities. The reader unravels the mystery, essentially the story of why Richard was killed, in THE MASK OF ATREUS through Deborah's eyes, travelling to Greece and Russia, patching together an incredible story.

Axel Berg is an Inspektor in Munich's newly formed Mordkommission. The year is 1929 and the Austrian Adolf Hitler is on the rise. He leads those who want to rid Germany of degenerates, Jews, Communists. The police force that Berg belongs to is underpaid and corrupt and ill equipped to deal with the growing Brown Shirt menace, young drunken hooligans who are manipulated by Hitler and murder and attack 'degenerates'. Lustmord — the joy of murder. The terrifying concept seems apt for the brutal slaying of a beautiful young society wife dumped in the vast English Garden. Homicide inspector Axel Berg is horrified by the crime...and disturbed by the artful arrangement of the victim's clothes and hair — a madman's portrait of death. Berg's superiors demand quick answers and a quick arrest: a vagrant, the woman's husband, anyone who can be demonized will do. When a second body is discovered, the city erupts into panic, the unrest fomented by the wild-eyed, hate-mongering Austrian Adolf Hitler and his Brownshirt party of young thugs. Berg can trust no one as he relentlessly hunts a ruthless killer, dodging faceless enemies and back-alley intrigue, struggling to bring a fiend to justice before the country — and his life — veer straight into darkness.

BROTHER GRIMM, Craig Russell
A girl's body has turned up on a Hamburg beach with a note concealed in her hand. The note gives her name, that of a 13 year old who went missing on her way home from school 3 years earlier. But it is not the same girl. Fabel has worked this out even before her parents come to identify the body and confirm his suspicions. Then two more bodies turn up, posed at a picnic table in the woods, also with notes concealed in their hands. The notes say Hansel and Gretel, in the same tiny, obsessively neat writing. This book was interesting because it was released simultaneously in English and German. Craig Russell is an author I've meant to follow up on.

THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser,
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. I've included this one because it was translated from German. I reviewed it recently.


Marg said...

I used to love going up to Hahndorf! Great memories.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kerrie,

indeed, crime fiction is popular in Germany. Successful are usually books by English, US-American, and Scandinavian writers.

As my Carnival post demonstrated we (and I) don't know much about Australian crime fiction - but I'm working on it. There are nowadays several books by Peter Temple available and Garry Disher won twice the Deutsche Krimipreis (German Crime Fiction Awards).

There are not many German crime writers translated. I don't know about availability and I don't your preferences but I think Bernhard Schlink's "Self" books are really good and Schenkel's "Murder Farm" won the Deutsche Krimipreis and the Glauser Award.

Martin Edwards said...

I share your enthusiasm for Glauser. He is a real find, thanks to Bitter Lemon.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Kerrie, as usual!
I haven't read Glauser yet but have his first book to read having read so many eulogies on various blogs.
Some years ago I read Ingrid Noll, who wrote two or three charmingly eccentric, subversive books featuring (if memory serves) a 50-something anti-heroine with chutzpah.
Last year, I read an excellent book by Jan Costin Wagner called Ice Moon. Although set in Finland, the author is German. He spends half his time in one country and half in the other -- I think his wife is Finnish. If you haven't read Ice Moon I do recommend it, it is short. Strong characterisation, very sad, yet much humour and insight re the police aspects.

Anonymous said...

PS I'm reading the Schenkel that Krimileser mentions at the moment. It is very short indeed. Only half way through, though, so can't encapsulate it just yet!

Kerrie said...

I'll look for the Schenkel folks, and I have ICE MOON somewhere in the mountain.

Karen (Euro Crime) said...

I've got details of German authors in translation (and their books) on Euro Crime: http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/books/books_bib_Germany.html.

Anonymous said...

Karen, you are forever ahead of the game ;-)


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