My previous post inspired by Mrs Peabody’s overview of Crime Fiction in German discussed the controversy re the identification of the first crime story in world literature. (Clue: it wasn’t written by Edgar Allen Poe.) Today I’m on firm ground as Augusta Gröner’s Detective Müller is the acknowledged first police detective in German crime fiction.
While reading The Case of the Golden Bullet (1895) I was struck by how Joseph Müller’s personality differed from his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes. (Refreshingly so – I simply cannot stand SH.) The Secret Service Dectective of the Imperial Austrian Police is a humble-looking little man, with a modesty of disposition and expectation. He knows his place, but when he gets the scent, he is unstoppable and extremely skillful. Yet as his chief acknowledges his peculiarity is that his genius -for the man has undeniable genius – will always make concessions to his heart just at the moment when he is about to do something great – and his triumph is lost.
All of that is evidenced in this case in which Müller links a death, previously categorised as suicide, to the death of a professor shot by the golden bullet. His name would be made and cleared of the cloud that has been hanging over him from the start of his career, but then his heart – in the shape of sympathy for his prey – gets in the way.
This is not the first time I have enjoyed meeting Joseph Müller. The first time was 5 years ago – 5 years- how time flies when you’re buried in a blogger’s TBR. Back then I said I enjoyed the traditional feel of the narrative and wanted to read a full length Müller novel. After this second outing, I still do and I will.
I returned to Ursula Poznanski’s work much more promptly, after her YA thriller Erebos was narrowly pipped at the post for my read of 2015. Five, published under the name Ursula P Archer in the UK (I would love to know why), is the only other work of her quite considerable oeuvre to have been translated into English. (Again I would love to know why.)
Five is brilliant but gruesome and as far from Groner as is possible to imagine. When I recommended the novel in this year’s #germanlitmonth announcement, I had forgotten quite how gruesome it was in places and have since worried that those who picked the novel up might have found it offputting. My mind is now at ease as both Viv and Caroline both found the novel as compelling as I did.
What kept me reading past the grisly, though non-gratuitous, bits was the structuring of the novel around geocaching – a modern day form of treasure hunt. (More here.) The game begins, when a body is found with geographical coordinates tatooed onto the soles of her feet. These coordinates are the location of the first geocache containing a body part and the coordinates to the next geocache. Thereafter it gets more difficult with clues in the form of riddles leading to people, with no obvious connections, who are murdered once they have been identified. How are the detectives ever going to get one step ahead, particularly with the pace accelerating to the point of breathlessness in the second half.
Am I allowed to say that this is a seriously puzzling first case for Salzburg detectives Bea Kaspary and Florin Weininger, and one they and I are unlikely to forget. The use of technology and games, employed to such brilliant effect in Erebos, serves Poznanski well once more and she has certainly left this reader wanting more. The good news is that there are two further volumes in this series, though neither has been translated. Oh dear, I’m going to have to read them in German (not necessarily a bad thing.)