You just never know when a reading journey is beginning. A trip to the World Literature Weekend in London in June led to a subscription to the excellent World Literature Today magazine and the first issue of my subscription fortuitously contained a comprehensive feature on German language crime writing. This has come in very useful now that the Crime on A Europass train has rolled into Austria. I’ve only ever read one Austrian crime/thriller, Paulus Hochgatter’s excellent The Sweetness of Life, a contemporary novel written well before the Fritzl case came to light, and all the more disturbing for that.
Returning, however to World Literature Today. It was this paragraph that sparked my interest in Augusta Groner.
Austria’s fascination with crime fiction has a long history. In Augusta Groner (1850-1929) Austria brought forward one of the first internationally known women crime writers. Groner “the mother” of all Austrian women writers, began to write crime stories around 1890 and invented the figure of Josef Mueller, the first serial police detective in German crime literature. Groner’s novels were translated, and Josef Mueller became internationally famous, but the First World War plunged the writer into obscurity.
I certainly hadn’t heard of her before this but curiosity piqued I started a search and soon discovered a handsome two-volume edition of Detective Mueller stories, published by Leonaur Press.
Volume 1 contains 1 full length novel and 3 short stories. Volume 2 contains a novella, a novel and a short story. I have thus far read the 3 short stories in Volume 1 and, for fear of spoilers, I’m not going to tell you a thing about them!
I have been unable to ascertain when these stories were written. I can’t even find a bibliography on the web! Given Groner’s lifetime I am assuming that some of these stories are contemporaneous with Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes tales. Certainly the stories I read have a pre-World War 1 setting and feel. The character development is a little flat and the puzzles not that difficult to solve. That said Groner wasn’t writing for the sophisticated crime fiction audience of today. I enjoyed the traditional feel and I have high hopes that a full-length novel will be more complex. I found in Josef Mueller a very empathetic man. He has all the intelligence of Sherlock but none of the bad habits and arrogance. Neither is there a fawning sycophantic sidekick. Joseph Mueller is a small, humble, self-effacing personage, in the employ of the Imperial Austrian Police, very conscious that his actions reflect on the reputation of the institution he represents. He is meticulous, able to pick up the smallest threads in the case. The real mystery to me is why a man of his obvious talents is 1) in the employ of the police (an occupation not held in high regard at the time. “You wouldn’t care to take service with us? Ths sort of thing doesn’t rate very high, I know”) and 2) such a low ranking officer. I look forward to discovering the answers as I work my way through the rest of this collection during the coming winter months.
The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow / The Case of the Pool of Blood in the Pastor’s Study / The Case of the Registered Letter
Links above to online texts. But, if like me, you prefer hard copy, here they are on Amazon.