Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 – 1990)

descargaFriedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 – 1990) was born in Konolfingen (canton of Berne, Emmental region) the son of a protestant minister; he died in Neuchâtel, where he lived for 38 years. He studied philosophy, German literature and history of art in Berne and Zurich and worked as a playwright, novelist, essayist and painter. His plays The Visit (1956) and The Physicists (1962) brought him his greatest international acclaim, together with the film adaptations of his detective novels such as The Judge and His Hangman (1952) and The Pledge (1958). His philosophical essays and late-career autobiographical works, as well as his visual art – accomplished in parallel with his writing – are less well-known. The author received numerous awards throughout his career. He was twice married, and the father of three children born of his first marriage.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt excelled in the mystery novel genre, intermingling morality and logic to the point of absurdity. He spun his plots using increasingly complex and confusing literary tactics, against a philosophical background.

One of Dürrenmatt’s earliest sources of income as a young writer were his detective novels The Judge and His Hangman (1950) and Suspicion (1951), which first appeared in serialized form in the Schweizerische Beobachter review. He gave his cancer-stricken Inspector Barlach of Bern the stature of a figure straight out of the Old Testament, while at the same time ironically calling that very stature into question. Today, many of his literary detective novels are required reading in German language classes.

Film projects lie at the root of three further books in this vein: The Pledge (1958, subtitled “Requiem for the Detective Novel”); The Execution of Justice (begun in 1959/60 and completed in 1985); and The Assignment (1986). In all three, the author’s characteristic intermingling of morality and logic is carried out to the point of absurdity. By the same token, his novels always provide philosophical outlooks on the relationship between law and morality, the origin of evil and the possibility of knowledge. The last of this genre of novels, Valley of Confusion (1989), skilfully and confusingly interweaves theological, cosmological and mythical motifs into a satirical gangster tale located in an Alpine spa town. (Source: Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel)

Selected Bibliography: The Judge and His Hangman (Der Richter und sein Henker, 1950; novel); Suspicion (Der Verdacht, 1951, also known as The Quarry); The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel (Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman, 1958, novella); The Execution of Justice (Justiz, 1985); The Assignment (Der Auftrag, 1986, novella)

51Fv j7llFL._SY346_Synopsis: A respected professor is dead – shot in a crowded Zurich restaurant, in front of dozens of witnesses. The murderer calmly turned himself in to the police. So why has he now hired a lawyer to clear his name? And why has he chosen the drink-soaked, disreputable Spät to defend him?
As he investigates, Spät finds himself obsessed, drawn ever deeper into a case of baffling complexity until he reaches a deadly conclusion: justice can be restored only by a crime. This is a captivating neo-noir classic from
the master of the genre.
The Execution of Justice is a dark, wicked satire on the legal system and a disturbing, if ambivalent, allegory on guilt, justice, violence and morality.

Further reading: Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 – 1990); Pushkin Press publicity page.

The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

University of Chicago Press, 2006. Translated by Joel Agee. Originally published as Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman, 1958. ISBN: 9780226174372. 172 pp.  

The PledgeThe story is based on an original screenplay written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Hans Jacoby and Ladislao Vajda for the 1958 film Es geschah am hellichten Tag (English title: It Happened in Broad Daylight aka El Cebo in Spanish), directed by Ladislao Vajda, and starring Heinz Rühmann and Gert Fröbe. As far as I know, Dürrenmatt developed the film script into a novel Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman (The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel), with a different ending; he considered that Es geschah am hellichten Tag did not have a realistic ending. In 2001 The Pledge was adapted to the big screen in a film directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson, this time reflecting the ending envisaged by Dürrenmatt.

The Pledge, a novella, is narrated primarily in first person. The author himself is inserted into the narrative as a lecturer on the art of writing detective stories, but the story is told by a certain Dr. H., a former chief of police in the canton of Zurich. It is also interesting to note that the original title is subtitled Requiem auf den Kriminalroman, this subtitle has disappeared from my English edition, probably due to the difficulties that can involve translating correctly Kriminalroman to English, as Dorothy James suggests in her blog My Place for Mystery.

The story, as narrated by Dr. H., takes place in the small town of Mägendorf in Switzerland and revolves around the murder of a little girl called Gritli Moser. A peddler named von Guten found her body among the bushes not far from the edge of the forest. Inspector Matthäi, the best man under his command, is called to investigate the crime. It just so happen that it was Matthäi’s last day at the department. Von Guten soon becomes the main suspect and finally he admits committing the crime. However Inspector Matthäi has his doubts as to the real identity of the murderer, knowingly that the confession was obtained after forty hours of interrogation. Following to his confession, Von Guten hangs himself in his cell. Meanwhile Matthäi leaves his position in the police to devote his time to find the real culprit and thus fulfil the promise he made to the parents of the murdered girl.

I cannot but recommend this novella not only to all crime fiction readers but to everyone in general. A small gem in my view. Given its length, it will only take but a few hours of your precious time, but it’s worth it. It took me two or three sittings even if I’m not a fast reader. It is paradoxical to write a detective novel, to announce the requiem for the detective novels, but the answer can be found reading this remarkable story. A masterpiece.

‘Real events can’t be resolved like a mathematical formula, for the simple reason that we never know all the necessary factors, just a few, an usually a rather insignificant few.’

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

The Pledge has been reviewed by The crime segments.. (NacyO), Mrs. Peabody Investigates, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan (Bill), Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (Keishon), My Place for Mystery (Dorothy James), What are you reading for..?

The University of Chicago Press Books   

La promesa de Friedrich Dürrenmatt 

Imagen del editor

La historia está basada en un guión original escrito por Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Hans Jacoby y Ladislao Vajda para la película de 1958, Es geschah am hellichten Tag (títulada en inglés: It Happened in Broad Daylight y conocida como El Cebo en español), dirigida por Ladislao Vajda, y protagonizada por Heinz Rühmann y Gert Fröbe. Por lo que yo sé, Dürrenmatt desarrolló el guión de la película en una novela Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman (La promesa: Réquiem por la novela policíaca), con un final diferente; consideraba que Es geschah am hellichten Tag no tenía un final realista. En el 2001 La promesa fue adaptada a la gran pantalla en una película dirigida por Sean Penn y protagonizada por Jack Nicholson, esta vez reflejando el final previsto por Dürrenmatt.

La promesa, una novela corta, está narrada principalmente en primera persona. El propio autor se introduce en la narración como un conferenciante sobre el arte de escribir historias de detectives, pero la historia la cuenta un tal Dr. H., antiguo jefe de la policía del cantón de Zurich. También es interesante destacar que el título original se subtitula Requiem auf den Kriminalroman, este subtítulo ha desaparecido de mi edición inglesa,  probablemente debido a las dificultades que puede implicar traducir correctamente Kriminalroman al inglés, como sugiere Dorothy James en su blog My Place for Mystery.

La historia, según lo narrado por el Dr. H., tiene lugar en la pequeña ciudad de Mägendorf en Suiza y gira en torno al asesinato de una niña llamada Gritli Moser. Un vendedor ambulante llamado von Guten encontró su cuerpo entre los arbustos no muy lejos de la orilla del bosque. El inspector Matthäi, el mejor hombre bajo su mando, acude a investigar el crimen. Se da la casualidad que era el último día de Matthäi en el departamento. Von Guten pronto se convierte en el principal sospechoso y, por último, admite haber cometido el crimen. Sin embargo el inspector Matthäi tiene sus dudas en cuanto a la verdadera identidad del asesino, a sabiendas de que la confesión fue obtenida después de cuarenta horas de interrogatorio. Después de su confesión Von Guten se ahorca en su celda. Mientras tanto Matthäi deja su puesto en la policía para dedicar su tiempo a encontrar al verdadero culpable y así cumplir la promesa que hizo a los padres de la chica asesinada.

No puedo dejar de recomendar esta novela no sólo a todos los lectores de novelas de crímenes y de misteriro, sino a todo el mundo en general. Una pequeña joya en mi opinión. Dada su extensión, sólo le llevará unas pocas horas de su valioso tiempo, pero vale la pena. Tardé dos o tres sentadas, aunque no soy un lector rápido. Resulta paradójico escribir una novela de detectives, para anunciar el réquiem por las novelas de detectives, pero la respuesta se puede encontrar leyendo este extraordinario relato. Una obra maestra.

“Los casos reales no puede solucionarse como una fórmula matemática, por la sencilla razón de que nunca conocemos todos los factores necesarios, sólo unos pocos, y por lo general unos pocos bastante irrelevantes.” (My free translation).

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

La promesa ha sido reseñado en Calibre 38 (Alexis Ravelo), Leer sin prisa (Atram).


Review: The Inspector Barlach Mysteries (The Judge and His Hangman + Suspicion) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Translated by Joel Agee With a Foreword by Sven Birkerts. ISBN: 978-0-226-1744-0. 208 pages.

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries brings together two of the best known detective novels by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The protagonist, Inspector Barlach, is now at the end of his career and, even with a necessary surgery, has only one more year of life. The first novella The Judge and His Hangman was originally published as Der Richter und sein Henker in Der Schweizerische Beobachter (1950/51), and revised by Benziger Verlag Einsiedeln, Zurich (1952). The second one, Suspicion (aka The Quarry) was originally published as Der Verdacht (1951) in Der Schweizerische Beobachter (1951/52), and revised by Benziger Verlag Einsiedeln, Zurich (1953).

The action in The Judge and His Hangman, takes place in November 1948. The story opens when Ulrich Schmid, a police lieutenant from Bern, is found dead with a gunshot in his car on a Swiss road. Inspector Barlach had been the dead man’s superior in Bern.   

‘Barlach had lived abroad for many year and had made a name for himself as a criminologist, first in Constantinople and later in Germany. His last job there had been as chief of the Frankfurt am Main police, but had come back to his native city as early as 1933. The reason for his return was not his love of Bern –his golden grave, as he often called it- but a slap he had given a high-ranking official of the new German government. This vicious assault was the talk of Frankfurt for a while. Opinion in Bern, always sensitive to the shifts in European politics, judged it first as an inexcusable outrage, then as a deplorable but understandable act, and finally –in 1945- as the only possible thing a Swiss could have done.’

Barlach’s first reaction was to order his subordinates to keep the investigation in secret during the first days in view of the little information they had. Meanwhile Barlach’s boss, Dr. Lucio Lutz who had studied criminology at the university and had just completed a visit to the police departments of New York and Chicago, was complaining about the antediluvian state of crime prevention in the federal capital of Switzerland.

Barlach soon confirms that he already has a suspect in mind but cannot say anything to his boss yet. He specifically requests the appointment of Walter Tschazn as his assistant in the case. Luntz believes it’s a good idea since Tschantz is a hard worker and keeps up on the latest developments in criminology.

As the investigation progresses, Barlach finds out that Schmid was investigating the activities of Richard Gastmann, a criminal mastermind and Barlach’s old acquaintance. Gastman becomes the prime suspect but it will be difficult to demonstrate his role in the crime.  

I really enjoyed reading this novella that, given its extension, can be read almost in one sitting. The story is full of philosophical reflections that accurately reflect the concerns of that time. At one point Gastmann tells Barlach:

‘Your thesis was that human imperfection –the fact that we can never predict with certainty how others will act, and that furthermore we have no way of calculating the way chance interferes in our plans- guarantees that most crimes will perforce be detected. To commit a crime, you said, is an act of stupidity, because you can’t operate with people as if they were chessmen. Against this I contended, more for the sake of argument than out of conviction, that it’s precisely this incalculable, chaotic element in human relations that makes it possible to commit crimes that cannot be detected, and for this reason the majority of crimes are not only not punished, but are simply not known, because, in effect, they are perfectly hidden.’

For my taste the story is well told, the plot is interesting, it keeps the reader’s interest and has an interesting twist at the end. Highly recommended.

My rating: A (I loved it) 

Suspicion is the sequel to The Judge and His Hangman and takes place shortly before Christmas 1948. Inspector Barlach’s operation was delayed two weeks due to a heart attack, but finally it was carried out successfully. One day Barlach notices how his friend, Doctor Samuel Hungertobel, seems to have recognised someone he knows well in a photograph from an old issue of Life magazine. The photo shows a German doctor, Dr. Nehle, while he’s performing surgery without anaesthetic to a prisoner in a concentration camp near Gdansk. Dr. Nehle bears a striking resemblance with a former colleague of his, Dr. Fritz Emmenberger. It seems impossible that they are not the same person. However, Dr Nehle committed suicide in 1945, while Dr. Emmenberger was in Chile during the entire II World War. However Barlach is determined to find out if they are the same person or if,at some point, their identities were exchanged.

I must admit that Dürrenmatt knows pretty well how to create suspense and keeps the reader’s attention throughout this second instalment. However I enjoyed it less. Maybe because it has a rather loose ending and some characters seem to come out of the blue.

My rating: C (I liked it with a few reservations).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel, any time soon. 

The son of a minister, Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born in Konolfingen (canton of Berne, Emmental region) in 1921; he died in Neuchâtel, where he lived for 38 years, in 1990. His plays The Visit (1956) and The Physicists (1962) brought him his greatest international acclaim, together with the film adaptations of his detective novels such as The Judge and His Hangman (1952) and The Pledge (1958). His philosophical essays and late-career autobiographical works, as well as his visual art – accomplished in parallel with his writing – are less well-known. The author received numerous awards throughout his career. He was twice married, and the father of three children born of his first marriage. (Note taken from Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel)

The Judge and His Hangman has been reviewed at Yet Another Fiction Blog (Keishon), Tipping my Fedora (Sergio). And I must thank them both for having aroused my interest in Dürrenmatt

The University of Chicago Press Books

The Friedrich Dürrenmatt website by the University of Chicago Press 

Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel

Los misterios del inspector Barlach de Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Portada de El juez y su verdugoLos misterios del inspector Barlach reúne dos de las novelas de detectives más famosas de Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Su protagonista, el inspector Barlach, se encuentra en el punto final de su carrera e incluso con una cirugía necesaria sólo le queda un año más de vida. La primera novela corta El juez y su verdugo fue publicada originalmente como Der Richter und sein Henker en Der Schweizerische Beobachter (1950/51), y revisada por Benziger Verlag Einsiedeln, Zurich (1952). La segunda, La sospecha fue publicada originalmente como Der Verdacht (1951) en Der Schweizerische Beobachter (1951/52), y revisada por Benziger Verlag Einsiedeln, Zurich ( 1953).

La acción de El juez y su verdugo, se desarrolla en noviembre de 1948. La historia comienza cuando Ulrich Schmid, un teniente de la policía de Berna, es encontrado muerto de un disparo en su coche en un camino de Suiza. El inspector Barlach era su superior en Berna.

‘Barlach había vivido en el extranjero durante muchos años y se había construido cierta reputación como criminólogo, primero en Constantinopla y más tarde en Alemania. Su último trabajo había sido como jefe de la policía de Frankfurt am Main, pero había regresado a su ciudad natal ya en 1933. La razón de su regreso no fue su amor a Berna -su tumba dorada como la llamaba a menudo-, si no una bofetada que le había dado a un funcionario de alto rango del nuevo gobierno alemán. Este atroz agresión fue muy comentada en Frankfurt durante un tiempo. La opinión en Berna, siempre sensible a los cambios en la política europea, lo juzgó primero como un ultraje imperdonable, luego como un acto deplorable pero comprensible, y finalmente – en 1945 – como lo único posible que un ciudadano suizo podía haber hecho.’

La primera reacción de Barlach fue ordenar a sus subordinados mantener la investigación en secreto durante los primeros días en vista de la poca información que tenían. Mientras tanto el jefe de Barlach, el Dr. Lucio Lutz que había estudiado criminología en la universidad y acababa de realizar una visita a los departamentos de policía de Nueva York y Chicago, se quejaba sobre el estado antediluviano de la prevención del delito en la capital federal de Suiza.

Barlach pronto confirma que ya tiene un sospechoso en mente, pero no puede decir nada a su jefe todavía. Solicita expresamente el nombramiento de Walter Tschazn como su asistente en el caso. Luntz considera que es una buena idea ya que Tschantz es un gran trabajador y está al día de las últimas novedades en criminología.

A medida que avanza la investigación, Barlach se entera de que Schmid estaba investigando las actividades de Richard Gastmann, un genio criminal y viejo conocido de Barlach. Gastman se convierte en el principal sospechoso, pero será difícil demostrar su participación en el crimen.

He disfrutado mucho leyendo esta novela que, por su extensión, se puede leer casi de un tirón. La historia está llena de reflexiones filosóficas que reflejan con precisión las preocupaciones de la época. En un momento Gastmann le dice a Barlach:

‘Su tesis era que la imperfección humana -el hecho de que nunca podamos predecir con certeza cómo actuarán los demás, y que, además, no tenemos manera de calcular la forma en que el azar interfiere en nuestros planes. garantiza que la mayoría de los crímenes serán necesariamente detectados. Cometer un crimen, ha dicho usted, es un acto de estupidez, porque no se puede actuar con las personas como si fueran piezas de ajedrez. Contra esto yo sostenía, más a modo de argumento que por convicción, que es precisamente este elemento incalculable, caótico en las relaciones humanas el que permite cometer delitos que no se pueden detectar, y por esta razón la mayoría de los delitos no sólo permanecen impunes, sino que simplemente no se conocen, porque, efectivamente, se mantiene perfectamente ocultos.’

Para mi gusto la historia está bien contada, la trama es interesante, mantiene el interés del lector y tiene un giro interesante al final. Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó )

Portada de La sospechaLa sospecha es la continuación de El juez y su verdugo y se desarrolla poco antes de la Navidad de 1948. La operación del Inspector Barlach se retrasó dos semanas debido a un ataque al corazón, pero finalmente se llevó a cabo con éxito. Un día Barlach observa cómo su amigo, el doctor Samuel Hungertobel, parece haber reconocido a alguien que conoce bien en una fotografía de una vieja edición de la revista Life. La foto muestra a un médico alemán, el Dr. Nehle, mientras realiza una operación quirúrgica sin anestesia a un prisionero en un campo de concentración cerca de Gdansk. El Dr. Nehle tiene un parecido sorprendente con un antiguo colega suyo, el doctor Fritz Emmenberger. Parece imposible que no sean la misma persona. Pero el Dr Nehle se suicidó en 1945, mientras que el Dr. Emmenberger estuvo en Chile durante toda la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Sin embargo Barlach está decidido a averiguar si son la misma persona o si, en algún momento, se intercambiaron sus identidades.

Debo admitir que Dürrenmatt sabe muy bien cómo crear suspense y mantiene la atención del lector a lo largo de esta segunda entrega. Sin embargo, me gustó menos. Tal vez porque tiene un final más bien flojo y algunos personajes parecen surgidos de la nada.

Mi valoración: C (Me gustó con algunas reservas).

En cualquier caso, estoy deseando leer La promesa: Réquiem por la novela policíaca, dentro de poco.

Hijo de un pastor, Friedrich Dürrenmatt nació en Konolfingen (cantón de Berna, en la región de Emmental) en 1921 y murió en Neuchâtel, donde vivió durante 38 años, en 1990. Sus obras de teatro La visita de la vieja dama (1956) y Los Físicos (1962) le granjearon el reconocimiento internacional, junto con las adaptaciones cinematográficas de sus novelas de detectives, El juez y su verdugo (1952) y La promesa (1958). Sus ensayos filosóficos y sus obras autobiográficas al final de su carrera, así como su arte visual – realizados paralelamente a su obra escrita, son menos conocidos. El autor recibió numerosos premios a lo largo de su carrera. Se casó dos veces, y tuvo tres hijos de su primer matrimonio. (Nota tomada del Centro Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel)

Tusquets Editores (El juez y su verdugo)

Tusquets Editores (La sospecha)

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