The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator)

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The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: How to rate a book that deliberately tries, in one way, to be a little less satisfying than the genre norm? Well, in this author's strong hands it's still pretty compelling.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782273394

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In what sounds like rural Switzerland, a girl has been murdered and left for anyone to see in a forest. The police come, and soon find out who the villagers already think is the sole suspect – a man known for illegal liaisons with young girls. They have, in fact, to put a compelling case against lynch mob rule just to get him back for investigation. He does confess, after a lengthy process – and then hangs himself. But the leader of the investigation, even while walking across the airstrip to the plane waiting to take him to a different job elsewhere, is determined to follow up on the promise he made to the girl's parents, to make the guilty person face justice. It's a promise, however, with far-reaching consequences…

This has all the hallmarks of a decent thriller – a heinous crime, a person we know will be forced into suspicion – both for the police characters and for the reader – but who is clearly innocent, a strongly-wrought location… But that's not the case. Or it's not all the case. For a start, we've already been introduced to this tale in an unusual manner – a man dismissive of such crime books is giving a lift to our author, and is spilling his thoughts on this case, and on how the pattern of putting the pieces together cannot always be relied on in real life. In other words, this book is deliberately subverting a genre from within, and disparaging those who have the simple tastes of working on what can be sterlingly cryptic puzzles.

Does this work, then? Can the crime reader turn to these pages and not feel the insult, but enjoy the difference? I think on this example we can. For one, we don't have such a huge step from the routine, safe start to the end. The obsessive idea of the policeman sworn to the titular promise is firmly in the realm of detective work, however blatantly amoral. I was told years ago of a stage play where the murderer is someone we're only aware exists in the last few minutes, which belittles the whole routine we buy into when taking a theatre seat, but I don't think this is a heinous crime to the genre – we're hardly here for two hours, as it's a brief book in many small chapters, and it's not like we're not warned about the illogicality of the logical crime story right at the beginning.

Plus, of course, this is in a crime novel branding. There is procedural here, to repeat – just not the kind the police normally expect to do, and not what we normally read of. So while there is no chance of us joining in the investigation – there is none of the plot we can try to pre-empt, as such – there is the feel of an actual case. And, I'm sure, a more honest emotional response to the murder, when we don't have the usual trappings of the case to prioritise. And what book review would ever suggest the reader not try something different, off-kilter and unexpected? Recommended.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The same publishers also offer Crush by Frederic Dard and Daniel Seton (translator), which likewise bends the form of short crime novel and features obsession to some extent.

Buy The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at

Buy The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at


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