Fresh from the book launch in Swansea, crime fiction blogger Mrs Peabody (aka editor Katharina Hall) has paid us a visit (along with her sidekick, Erich, the Bavarian duck). Seeing as this book is going to be a foundation stone in my reading for the rest of 2016, I couldn’t resist asking a few questions – particularly fiendish number 5.
What were your objectives?
When I started researching German crime fiction in 2006, I realised there was no comprehensive overview of the Krimi in English. This seemed surprising given that there was so much great German-language crime fiction already in translation – from Friedrich Dürrenmatt to Jakob Arjouni to Ingrid Noll – and sowed the idea of the book. The volume showcases the most interesting Krimis from the nineteenth century to the present day, and places them in their larger social, historical and cultural contexts, hopefully helping readers to appreciate the richness of crime fiction from the German-speaking world.
Who is your target audience?
We hope that the volume will be useful to academics in the field, but have also written very much with the general reader in mind. The first chapter is a standalone overview of German-language crime (which can be downloaded for free here! https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa25191) and the idea is that readers can dip into other chapters that interest them. There are chapters on early crime fiction, Austrian crime fiction, Swiss crime fiction, women’s crime fiction, historical crime fiction, the Afrika-Krimi (crime set in or about Africa) and the Fernsehkrimi (TV crime drama). We’ve tried to focus on crime novels that are already translated, and hope that readers will seek out lots of lovely Krimis as a result!
Did you have any difficulties finding contributors / or a publisher? Crime fiction is hardly an academic subject…
There’s actually been lots of academic work being carried out on crime fiction – it’s a really vibrant area with articles and books being published all the time. But these need to be less expensive if they are to reach wider audiences. Bridging the world of academia and the world of crime blogging/discussion is one of the main aims of the ‘Mrs. Peabody Investigates’ blog, and it’s why we’ve made the first chapter of the volume available to everyone for free. We’re having giveaways of the volume and German crime fiction as well – spreading the Krimi love all around the world.
Finding contributors was an organic process over time, and they’ve been brilliant in terms of their commitment to the project. We’re a truly international bunch, based in Germany, the UK, Ireland, the USA, Kuwait and Namibia. As for finding a publisher – this proved to be remarkably easy. The University of Wales Press (just down the road from Swansea University) already had an established series called ‘European Crime Fictions’, with volumes on French, Italian, Scandinavian and Iberian crime, so we slotted in quite nicely there.
How much fun was this project? How many Krimis did you read for it?
Researching the volume was enormously fun. As editor, I must have read over a hundred Krimis that were new to me, and discovered all sorts of gems thanks to the expertise of the contributors. I particularly enjoyed reading social crime fiction from the 1970s by Richard Hey (whose novels feature the first female German police inspector, Katharina Ledermacher) and watching vast quantities of TV crime drama. A favourite was the black and white East German crime series Blaulicht (Blue Light) – I can still remember the tune of the police siren in the opening credits!
My own wishlist has grown exponentially (and I’m only two chapters in.) Could you create an essential reading list by recommending just one Krimi from each chapter of your book?
This is such a hard task! I could have created at least five different lists! But here we go:
Chapter 1 (Crime Fiction in German) – Jakob Arjouni, Happy Birthday, Turk! (No Exit Press, trans Anselm Hollo). This novel was published in 1985 and features the first Turkish-German private eye – Kemal Kayankaya – in German-language crime fiction. An innovative social crime novel with biting humour and an unforgettable investigator.
Chapter 2 (Early Crime Fiction) – Auguste Groner, The Case of the Golden Bullet (Amazon, trans unknown). This popular female author was a pioneer of Austrian crime fiction and created the first German-language police detective series. Joseph Müller investigates in this opening novella, originally published in 1892.
Chapter 3 (Austrian Crime Fiction) – Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (MacLehose, trans Jamie Bulloch). This crime novel won the 2009 European Literature Prize and shows Detective Ludwig Kovacs and psychiatrist Raffael Horn working on a murder case in which the only witness is a girl too traumatised to speak. Like many Austrian crime novels, it explores the darker sides of small-town society.
Chapter 4 (Swiss crime fiction) – Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Bitter Lemon Press, trans Mike Mitchell). Originally published in 1936, In Matto’s Realm is the second in the landmark ‘Sergeant Studer’ series. Studer is shown investigating the escape of a murderer from a psychiatric institution, a setting that holds a mirror up to pre-war Switzerland.
Chapter 5 (Afrika-Krimi) – Bernhard Jaumann, Steinland (Stoneland/not yet translated). Steinland is set in Namibia, which was once a German colony, and explores the tensions created by the government’s land reform policy, which aims to return land appropriated during colonialism to its rightful owners. It features the wonderful Namibian police inspector Clemencia Garises.
Chapter 6 (women’s crime fiction) – Doris Gercke, How Many Miles to Babylon (Women in Translation, trans Anna Hamilton). This crime novel features iconic, world-weary Hamburg investigator Bella Block, who is called to a seemingly idyllic village to investigate two suicides that may have been murder. A classic example of the Frauenkrimi, which inspired a long-running TV series.
Chapter 7 (historical crime fiction) – Simon Urban, Plan D (Vintage, trans Katy Derbyshire). This ambitious novel blends police procedural, detective novel and alternative history genres. Set in a 2011 in which the Berlin Wall still stands, it explores East-West tensions as the GDR teeters on brink of bankruptcy. A biting social satire.
Chapter 8 (TV crime drama) – ‘Cenk Batu’ Tatort episodes. This groundbreaking set of episodes from the famous TV drama Tatort (Crime Scene) plays in Hamburg and features Turkish-German undercover policeman Cenk Batu. The episodes are currently available in the UK with subtitles via All 4/‘Walter Presents’ – Walter has described them as ‘Montalbano on speed’ (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/cenk-batu/on-demand/63253-001).
The Giant Krimi Giveway is currently underway at ‘Mrs Peabody Investigates’ and is open until Sunday 17 April.