I tried to resist, but I suppose it was inevitable given the programme. Two events: one with three British authors writing historical crime fiction set in Germany, the second with three German crime fiction authors. Both with the inimitable Mrs Peabody as chair.
So into the car I jumped and drove south to Newcastle upon Tyne, listening (finally) to Sascha Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies in preparation. But then he was a no show – apparently he was needed on the film-set (which I suppose is good news in a way, because his novel is fantastic!) His stand-in, Elisabeth Herrmann, never made it to Newcastle either due to a bomb scare at Berlin Tegel earlier in the day. That second event turning into a logistical nightmare for the organisers … still 5 authors, Mrs Peabody and her delightful sidekick, Erich, the Bavarian duck did make it. So a huge round of applause for them please. And another for the Goethe Institute, sponsors of the German Noir event.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Arriving at the Literary and Philosophical Society (the Lit&Phil) in Newcastle, I was surprised to find a smallish space in which authors mingled and chatted quite naturally with the attendees. I spied David Young of Stasi Child/Stasi Wolf fame immediately and couldn’t resist introducing myself with the statement I’ve got something to show you. Cue photos from mobile phone.
“Surely you didn’t read Stasi Wolf and then visit Halle Neustadt”, he asked. As it happens, I did, but only in broad daylight! (Admittedly I was in Leipzig for the book fair and Halle Neustadt was only a S-bahn ride away.)
Thereafter, it was straight into the German historical crime fiction event, the panel consisting of David Young (series set in the GDR), Luke McCallin (series set in Nazi times), and William Ryan (series beginning in Stalinist Russia, latest novel set in Ausschwitz). All three talked about the gold mine of a totalitarian regime – a setting that just keeps on giving was how William Ryan described it. How can a detective ever hope to preserve truth and justice in times when parallel moralities are at play?
William Ryan talked of the photographic inspiration for The Constant Soldier, Luke McCallin of his fear of writing about Berlin (his first two novels are set in Sarajevo, where he lived for 6 years) and David Young of his need for escape from the BBC! All acknowledged Phillip Kerr for leading the way in writing historical crime fiction set in Germany, and Luke McCallin divulged his fantasy of Kerr’s Bernie Günther and his Gregor Rheinhardt appearing in each others works!
Why are German authors not writing historical crime set in National Socialist or GDR times? “They say it is too early”, said Mrs Peabody, pointing out to David Young that Simon Urban’s Plan D, set in an alternate present, is his nearest competition “Oh, there’s far too much internalisation in that novel”, replied David Young. “It could have been much better.”
Cue coffee and a good old chin wag with Mrs Peabody before she left to prepare for the second event …. Turned out it was Wulf Dorn’s 1st UK event, and only Cay Rademacher’s 2nd!
Wulf Dorn was a psychiatric therapist before turning to crime writing. He likes to explore the abyss of the human mind, using Friedrich Duerrenmatt as his role model. His motivating factor is suspense, not blood and gore. His novels have yet to be published in English (though I believe something may be in the pipeline), but all have a fantastic premise, said Mrs P. Then she asked: “How do you come up with these? Do you soak in the bath, go for long walks, or do you simply have a twisted imagination?”. Wulf Dorn: “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
Cay Rademacher’s Inspector Stave series is available to English readers. The Murderer in Ruins and The Wolf Children are set in post-war Hamburg. Set in the cold, cold winter of 1947, the first is based on an unsolved case, reconstructed by Rademacher to provide a solution. The second is set in the hot summer of 1948 which heralded the beginning of Germany’s economic miracle with the introduction of the German Mark. I intend reading both when I visit Hamburg in June.
There was discussion about the popularity of the prologue in crime fiction, something authors are taught not to write. Both authors agreed that the prologue has grown in popularity since the introduction of e-books. These are now so cheap that a novel must have a hook in the first few pages to prevent readers moving straight onto the next one.
Time for audience questions:
From me: Do you think that a crime novel will ever win the German Book Prize? Both authors were adamant that it will never happen, (which is interesting given Marlon James’s success with the Booker Prize).
Another member of the audience asked for further German crime recommendations. Works recommended were Volker Fischer – Babylon Berlin (in TBR), Melanie Raabe’s The Trap (best forgotten IMO), and Andreas Eschbach (new name to me and more science fiction than crime?)
With that a very interesting afternoon came to a close with lots of leads for further reading. I made only one e-book purchase, deciding I couldn’t wait until Wulf Dorn’s work appears in English. When asked which novels should be translated first into English, he answered Phobia, which is set in London with the following premise. A woman greets her husband when he comes home from work. He is wearing the clothes he went to work in and carries the same briefcase … but he is not her husband. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? (To be continued.)