Thursday, April 12, 2007

A German passport to crime: Gunter Gerlach

The subject of Germany and its lack of a deep crime-fiction tradition has come up here and elsewhere, with speculation tying the lack to the country's dreadful past. ("It is probably due to the long tradition of authoritarian states and totalitarian social conditions that we have only been able to talk about a phenomenon of the `German crime novel' since around 1962," according to this article on a Goethe Institute Web page.)

Passport to Crime, last year's volume of short stories collected from the monthly feature of the same name in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, includes the excellent "Wedding in Voerde," by Gunter Gerlach, born in Leipzig and living in Hamburg. An introductory note says none of Gerlach's thirteen novels is available in English.

If "Wedding in Voerde" is any indication, that's a loss to readers of English. The story, deadpan and slapstick at the same time, relates the familiar tale of two robbers freed from prison who set out to get their share of the loot from the accomplice who avoided capture. But nothing goes quite right. Their car breaks down. One of them is constantly burning himself, falling off stolen bicycles and running into trees.

When the pair finally find the accomplice, on his wedding day, neither the accomplice nor his bride acts as anyone expects. An air of guileless confusion pervades the tale until Ullrich, the accident-prone thief, brings the end of the pair's quest within reach -- unexpectedly, of course. It's no wonder that the article cited above says that "Writers such as Jakob Arjouni, Gunter Gerlach, Roger M. Fiedler, Jörg Juretzka or Norbert Klugmann (and) Peter Matthews clinically play with stereotypes."

The story is comic, with the barest hints, rapid as musical grace notes, suggesting darker possibilities. "Wedding in Voerde" won the Friedrich Glauser prize for short fiction in 2005, according to the story's introduction. Gerlach merits mention with the great Glauser.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Lars@Krimi-Couch said...

Peter,

By the the way: "Voerde" is a small town with around 40,000 inhabitants in the Lower Rhine region. If you are interested in the setting, you might want to take a look at http://www.voerde.de/

Best regards from Germany,

Lars

April 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. The Web site calls Voerde a "young city" -- an interesting description. And krimi-couch looks like a comprehensive and professional site. I especially like the lists of crime writers from around the world. You should consider adding Peter Temple to your list of Australian writers: http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/Peter%20Temple

April 12, 2007  
Anonymous Lars@Krimi-Couch said...

Thanks for the link, Peter. Temple is up to sit down on our couch next month. The reason for his absence is quite simple: Temple's Broken Shore has just been published as his first ever German translation. But I really do like this book. Temple will get his comfortable place.

Lars

April 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That is good news; Temple is one of the best in the world.

I mentioned him because I am told he received an award recently from a group of German, Swiss and Austrian critics.

April 12, 2007  

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