Friedrich Glauser (4 February 1896 – 8 December 1938) was a German-language Swiss writer. He was born in Vienna, the son of a Swiss father and an Austrian mother. Twice expelled from school, he quit his studies early and his father put him under tutelage. From 1921 to 1923 he served in the Foreign Legion in North Africa after which he worked as a labourer in France, Belgium and Switzerland. Diagnosed a schizophrenic, addicted to morphine and convicted for forging prescriptions he spent a part of his later years in jails and asylums. The evening before his wedding day, he suffered a stroke caused by cerebral infarction, and died two days later in Nervi near Genoa. Friedrich Glauser’s literary estate is archived in the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern. Since 1987, the annual Glauser Prize has been one of the best-known German-language crime writing awards.
Glauser wrote six detective stories, five of them featuring Sergeant Jacob Studer of Bern police. The novels are modelled on the Commissaire Maigret stories by Georges Simenon, as the author freely admitted. Not the criminal case as such is the main issue but the people and the atmosphere in which they move. Both Maigret and Studer are petit-bourgeois, in both cases the whole personality does the investigation, not just the intellect and both are very different from their authors .
In 1939, a year after Glauser’s death, the film of ‘Thumbprint’, the first Sergeant Studer mystery, was greeted with critical acclaim and commercial success. Studer became more famous than his creator, the mark of true success for a fictional detective.
Friedrich Glauser’s Detective Stories: Besides Der Tee der drei alten Damen (The Three Old Ladies’ Tea, 1941), –written between 1931 and 1934–were Glauser played with humour and irony with the cliché of the detective novel, he left us a series of crime stories featuring Sergeant Jacob Studer: Wachtmeister Studer, 1936; [English translation: Thumbprint, 2004]; Matto regiert, 1936 [English translation: In Matto’s Realm, 2005]; Die Fieberkurve, 1938 [English translation: Fever, 2006]; Der Chinese. Wachtmeister Studers dritter Fall, 1939 [English translation: The Chinaman, 2007]; Krock & Co. Wachtmeister Studers vierter Fall, 1941 [English translation: The Spoke, 2008.]. The English titles’ links refer to the Bitter Lemon Press publicity page.
Synopsis: The death of a travelling salesman in the forest of Gerzenstein appears to be an open and shut case. Sergeant Studer is confronted with an obvious suspect and a confession to the murder. But nothing is what it seems. Envy, hatred, sexual abuse and the corrosive power of money lie just beneath the surface. Studer’s investigation soon splinters the glassy façade of Switzerland’s tidy villages, manicured forests and seemingly placid citizens. Thumbprint, a European crime classic, was first published in 1936. It has been translated into six languages and is the subject of a much-acclaimed film. This is its first publication in English.
About the Author: Friedrich Glauser is a legendary figure in European noir. A morphine and opium addict most of his life, he began writing one of his novels, Thumbprint (Bitter Lemon) while an inmate at the Swiss insane asylum, Waldau. Glauser is often compared to Simenon and had a strong influence on Friedrich Durenmatt. Germany’s most prestigious and best-known crime writing award is the Glauser prize. (Words Without Borders).
About the Translator: For many years an academic with a special interest in Austrian literature and culture, Mike Mitchell has been a freelance literary translator since 1995. His website is at http://homepages.phonecoop.coop/mjmitchell/ . Back in 2008, Peter Rozovsky of the Detectives Beyond Borders blog posted his two-part interview with Mike Mitchell, Friedrich Glauser’s translator. Part I is here, Part II can be enjoyed here.
What others have said:
Patrick Lennon @ The Rap Sheet: Today, Friedrich Glauser remains a highly admired cult figure in Europe, especially in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria–and one of Germany’s most prestigious crime-writing prizes is now called the Glauser Award. But Glauser and his books remain comparatively little-known in the English-speaking world. The slim little translation which I picked up in Cambridge was the first-ever publication of Thumbprint in English (released in 2004 by Bitter Lemon Press), and since then a further four of his eight novels have been translated and are in print: In Matto’s Realm, The Spoke, The Chinaman, and Fever. (They all feature Sergeant Studer). I would recommend starting with Thumbprint and experiencing some superbly furtive and corrupt village life.
Maxine Clarke @ Petrona: The novel is a highly readable affair, opening with the imprisonment of Erwin Schlumph, a young man arrested for shooting Wendelin Witschi, a travelling salesman and father of Schlumph’s sweetheart, Sonja, in the woods late at night. Schlumph is visited in prison by the man who arrested him, Sergeant Studer, who discovers that the young man has attempted suicide. After rescuing him, Studer decides to look into the case in more detail, as he’s fairly convinced that Schlumph didn’t commit the crime. First, Studer has to convince the investigating magistrate to authorize him to take this course, which Studer realises isn’t going to be easy as the man is a stickler for procedure and wants the case tidied away with no fuss.
For the rest of the novel, Studer, helped by the local police chief, works on the shooting, with a mixture of forensics, witness interviews, psychological insight and dogged persistence. Dreams and hallucinations begin to come into play – Studer’s wife and Sonja both have a tendency to stay up all night reading novels – which renders them into a dream-like state by day. Studer himself drinks too much and later becomes ill with an infection, causing him to vividly imagine various scenarios that may have led to the murder, and providing some flashes of inspiration. At its heart, though, the book is a classic story of a murder, some suspects, some social observations, and a neat solution. What makes it special, and fresh more than 70 years later, is its straightforward truthfulness, lack of pretension and yet, despite these pragmatic aspects, its hints of other worlds through which Studer’s perceptions are filtered.
Rob Kitchin @The View from the Blue House: Published in 1936 Thumbprint was the first in five Sergeant Studer novels written by the troubled Fredrich Glauser, who spent much of his life as an addict and in-and-out of prison or psychiatric wards, plus a couple of years in the French Foreign Legion. His unsettled personal life, however, is not evident in this assured and well-plotted tale of murder and conspiracy. Sergeant Studer used to be a promising inspector until he refused to drop a politically charged case. Now he works in the canton of Bern as an ordinary policeman, but he’s still blessed with good observational and deductive reasoning skills. And he knows how to unsettle people and prompt them into acting rashly – though sometimes they don’t respond as expected, which is almost the undoing of his investigation in this case. In this outing, Studer is investigating what seems like an open-and-shut case involving the death of a travelling salesman from a village. Despite the evidence he has an inkling that something is awry and seeks to find the truth and the real killer. As well as Studer, the strength of the tale is the quite complex puzzle and the show-not-tell voice. An interesting story that has aged well.
Giles Morgan @ Crime Time: Thumbprint by the Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser is an absolute treasure for fans of crime writing. Set during the 1930’s it concerns the death of a travelling salesman in the forest of Gerzenstein on the Swiss-French border and its subsequent investigation by local policemen Sergeant Studer. At first an ex-convict seems the most likely suspect but Studer’s enquiries soon highlight disturbing discrepancies in his confession. The picture postcard beauty of Switzerland’s towns and villages conceals darker truths as a confused and murky plot unfolds. First published in 1936 the most apparent influences on Glauser’s writing are art movements such as Surrealism, Dadaism and Freudian psychoanalysis. Using vivid descriptive prose, which conjures striking and memorable images, he explores in detail the lives of the inhabitants of a small community. Petty criminals and the actions of desperate people are treated with compassion and humour and the figure of Studer is conceived of as both fallible and humane.
Kerrie Smith @ Mysteries in Paradise: 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.