2 German Crime Ladies: Charlotte Link and Petra Hammesfahr

There are two German crime writers who are more famous than most others in Germany and these are Charlotte Link and Petra Hammesfahr. While Charlotte Link is probably by far the most read German author she has so far not been translated into English. That’s why I was so pleased when I saw that finally it’s going to happen. Her novel The Other ChildDas andere Kind will be published at the beginning of 2012. Here is the blurb:

A suspenseful and atmospheric new psychological crime novel from ‘Germany’s most successful living female author’

An old farm, a deserted landscape, a dark secret from times past with fatal consequences for the present. In the tranquil northern seaside town of Scarborough, a student is found cruelly murdered. For months, the investigators are in the dark, until they are faced with a copy-cat crime.

Charlotte Link is such a good example for another type of genre that German writers excel at and that is historical fiction. The amount of books and authors is amazing.

Link is famous for her psychological novels in the vein of Mary Higgins Clark and for her long family sagas and historical novels. The Other Child which I have not read yet – I wanted to but 700 pages were not feasible for German Literature Month – combines both. The story is set in 1970 – 2008 and during WWII in England. Young women are being killed, the crimes resemble each other and the trace to the killer seems to go back to WWII. One of the themes is the children that were sent to the country during the war.

Link has an easy but very gripping way of writing. I’ve read many of her psychological thrillers of women who are being stalked by ex-lovers. Her world is often one in which men are predators, but her descriptions are great and atmospherical and the pace is appealing. If this is really, as it seems, her first novel in English, I’m not sure how good a choice it is. It’s cunning to test the waters with a genre blend, I suppose, because if this book is loved, chances are high that her psychological thrillers and her historical novels will be equally liked.

For German Literature Month I picked up a slim volume of short stories by Petra Hammesfahr. While these stories have not been translated, Hammesfahr’s novels are slowly available in English and seem as succesful as they are in her native Germany. While Link is strong on plot and pace, Hammesfahr is even stronger on psychology. Whenever I start one of her novels, I don’t want to stop. I had the same experience when reading her short stories. Accurate descriptions, psychological insights and a surprising ending. Good people turn into criminals because the monotony and madness of daily life becomes too much to bear or highly dysfunctional people become delinquent because there was just this one moment that made them snap.

Hammesfahr, unlike Link, combines the very ordinary with the uncanny, the sick, the revolting. The outcast who may not be guilty, the housewife who may be.

The novels available in English so far are The Sinner Die Sünderin and The LieDie Lüge. I would hope that others will be translated. Most of all Der stille Herr Genardy.

Of the three German crime novelists I reviewed, Noll is the most literary, Link, the most mainstream, and Hammesfahr is somewhere in between. For you to choose what you prefer. I like them all, depending on my mood.

The review is part of German Literature Month Week II – Crime

Boileau-Narcejac: The Fiends/The Woman Who Was No More aka Celle qui n’était plus/Les diaboliques (1952)

Boileau-Narcejac, the French writer duo, are for France what Simenon is for Belgium or Agatha Christie for the UK. They are not traditional crime writers though. Solving the mystery is not the main interest when reading them. What they are famous for is the twist in the stories. The combination of the spooky with the suspense. The density of the melancholic atmosphere. Their writing is a cinematographic one. Once you open one of Boileau-Narcejac’s psychological thrillers you feel as if you were in the middle of a movie. No wonder their books were made into movies. The most famous one is certainly Hitchcock’s Vertigo that was based on their D’entre les mort/Sueurs froides aka The living and the dead.  The second most famous one is Cluzot’s Les diaboliques that was later remade starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani. It will not be easy to find English translations of their work. They are out of print, I guess. This book is no exception but it is worth trying and libraries should have them, I am sure.

Sit back, open the book and let yourself be enchanted by this atmospheric, haunting tale in which there is a lot of dense fog along dark, sparely lit piers. The lanterns illuminate the quay only barely and inside the house you see a couple, Ravinel and his lover Lucienne, planning the murder of Ravinels’s wife. They are after her life insurance. Lucienne who is a doctor has planned it carefully. They will give Murielle an anesthetic and drown her in the bath. Ravinel is a salesman. He works in Nantes but lives near Paris.  They trick Murielle into coming to Nantes, kill her and drive with her body back to Paris where  they dump her in a river. But this is only the very beginning of the story. If Murielle is dead, how come she is writing letters to Ravinel? Ravinel knows the answer. She is a ghost. Isn’t she? The second part of the story takes place in  Paris which gives the writers the opportunity for detailed descriptions of little smoky bars and cafés, old, dark houses. The way they describe a Sunday morning in a house, with all the different noises, children screaming, radios blaring and the smells of coffee and breakfast is wonderfully evocative.

There will be much more confusion in this book and the end is quite astonishing.

Boileau-Narcejac are masters of their art. If you have ever seen one of those French movies, maybe Le quai des brumes with  Jean Gabin, then you know the feel. There is a certain visual simplicity that is highly atmospherical. A solitary lamppost on an empty street, its yellow halo penetrating the fog. A lonely person in a room smoking and thinking. The pictures are simple but the feelings are complex. Their writing is economical and highly efficient at the same time.

I would really like to encourage you to discover these great writers.

Since I am not sure if I finish my German book/books for R.I.P. I count this as Peril The Third.

Celle qui n’était plus amazon.fr