The mysterious and unbearably tense tale of a detective's obsessive pursuit of a child murderer, from one of the post-war era's greatest writers in GermanWhen a young girl is found brutally murdered in a Swiss mountain forest, the brilliant Inspector Matthai can't put the case behind him. Not even when a local felon is arrested. Not even once the suspect has confessed.Matthai promises the girl's mother that he will stop at nothing to find the real killer.Adapted into a Hollywood film, The Pledge is the chilling story of a man in desperate search of the truth. A man driven to sacrifice everything, to commit acts of cruelty and obsession in a desperate search for a killer he can't find.Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was a Swiss author and dramatist, most famous for his plays The Visit and The Physicists, which earned him a reputation as one of the greatest playwrights in the German language. He also wrote four highly regarded crime novels - The Pledge, The Judge and His Hangman, Suspicion and The Execution of Justice, all of which will be published by Pushkin Vertigo.
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Whose dark or troubled mind will you step into next? Detective or assassin, victim or accomplice? How can you tell reality from delusion when you’re spinning in the whirl of a thriller, or trapped in the grip of an unsolvable mystery? When you can’t trust your senses, or anyone you meet; that’s when you know you’re in the hands of the undisputed masters of crime fiction.
Writers of the greatest thrillers and mysteries on earth, who inspired those that followed. Their books are found on shelves all across their home countries – from Asia to Europe, and everywhere in between. Timeless tales that have been devoured, adored and handed down through the decades. Iconic books that have inspired films, and demand to be read and read again. And now we’ve introduced Pushkin Vertigo Originals – the greatest contemporary crime writing from across the globe, by some of today’s best authors.
So step inside a dizzying world of criminal masterminds with Pushkin Vertigo. The only trouble you might have is leaving them behind.
Last March I had to give a lecture in Chur on the art of writing detective stories. My train pulled in just before nightfall, under low clouds, in a dreary blizzard. As if that wasn’t enough, the roads were paved with ice. The lecture was being held in the hall of the Chamber of Commerce. There wasn’t much of an audience, since Emil Staiger was lecturing in the school auditorium about Goethe’s late period. I couldn’t summon up the right mood, and neither could anyone else; several local residents left the room before I had ended my talk. After a brief chat with some members of the board of directors, two or three high-school teachers who also would have preferred the late Goethe, and a philanthropic lady who volunteered her services as manager of the Domestic Workers Alliance of Eastern Switzerland, I received my fee and traveling expenses and withdrew to the room I had been given at the Hotel Steinbock, near the train station—another dismal place. Except for a German financial newspaper and an old illustrated magazine, I couldn’t find anything to read. The silence of the hotel was inhuman. Impossible to even think of falling asleep, because that would give rise to the fear of not waking again. A timeless, spectral night. It had stopped snowing outside, no movement anywhere, the street lamps were no longer swaying, not a puff of wind, no denizen of Chur, no animal, nothing at all, except for a single heaven-rending blast from the train station. I went to the bar to have another whiskey. There, in addition to the elderly barmaid, I found a man who introduced himself the moment I sat down. He was Dr. H., the former chief of police in the canton of Zurich, a large and heavy man, old-fashioned, with a gold watch chain running across his vest. Despite his age, his bristly hair was still black, his mustache bushy. He was sitting on one of the high chairs by the bar, drinking red wine, smoking a Bahianos, and addressing the barmaid by her first name. His voice was loud and his gestures were lively, a blunt and unfastidious sort of person who simultaneously attracted and repelled me. When it was nearly three o’clock and our first Johnnie Walker had been followed by four more, he offered to drive me to Zurich the next morning in his Opel Kapitän. Since I did not know the area around Chur or that whole part of Switzerland, I accepted the invitation. Dr. H. had come to Graubünden as a member of a federal commission, and since the weather had prevented his departure, he, too, had attended my lecture, about which he had nothing to say beyond remarking that I had “a rather awkward delivery.”
We set out the next morning. At dawn, I had taken two Medomins to catch a little sleep, and now I felt virtually paralyzed. The day seemed still dark, though the sun had risen a while ago. There was a patch of metallic sky gleaming somewhere through a covering of dense, sluggishly lumbering, snow-filled clouds. Winter seemed unwilling to leave this part of the country. The city was surrounded by mountains, but there was nothing majestic about them; they rather resembled heaps of earth, as though someone had dug an immense grave. Chur itself was quite evidently made of stone, gray, with large government buildings. It seemed incredible to me that this was a wine-growing region. We tried to penetrate into the old inner city, but the heavy car strayed into a network of narrow lanes and one-way streets, and only a complex maneuver in reverse gear got us out of the tangle of houses. Moreover, the streets were icy, so we were glad to have the city behind us at last, although I had seen almost nothing of this old episcopal residence. It was like a flight. I dozed, feeling leaden and weary; vaguely, through the low scuttling clouds, I saw a snow-covered valley gliding past us, rigid with cold. I don’t know for how long. Then we were driving toward a large village, perhaps a small town, carefully, and suddenly everything was illuminated by sunlight so powerful and blinding that the snowy planes began to melt. A white ground mist rose, spreading imperceptibly over the snowfields until, once again, the valley was hidden from my sight. It was like a bad dream, like an evil spell, as if I was not supposed to experience these mountains. My weariness came back. The gravel with which the road had been strewn clattered unpleasantly; driving over a bridge, we went into a slight skid; then we passed a military transport; the windshield became so dirty that the wipers could no longer clean it. H. sat sullenly next to me at the wheel, absorbed in his own thoughts, concentrating on the difficult road. I regretted having accepted his invitation, cursed the whiskey and my sleeping pills. But gradually, things improved. The valley became visible again, and more human, too. There were farms everywhere, and occasionally a small factory, everything spare and clean, the road free of snow and ice now, glistening with wetness, but safe enough for us to accelerate to a decent speed. The mountains no longer hemmed us in from all sides but had opened out, and then we stopped next to a gas station.
The house immediately struck me as peculiar, perhaps because it stood out from its neat and proper surroundings. It was a wretched-looking thing with streams of water flowing down its sides. Half of it was made of stone; the other half was a wooden shed whose front wall was covered with posters. Evidently this had been its use for a long time, for there were whole layers of posters pasted one over the other: Burrus Tobacco for Modern Pipes, Drink Canada Dry, Sport Mints, Vitamins, Lindt’s Milk Chocolate, and so on. On the side wall, in giant letters: Pirelli Tires. The two gas pumps stood on an uneven, badly paved square in front of the house; everything made a run-down impression, despite the sun, which was now exuding a stinging heat that seemed almost malevolent.
“Let’s get out,” said the former chief of police, and I obeyed without understanding what he had in mind, but glad to step into the fresh air.
Next to the open door sat an old man on a stone bench. He was unshaven and unwashed, wore a pale smock that was smeared and stained, and dark, grease-spotted trousers that had once been part of a tuxedo. Old slippers on his feet. His eyes were staring, stupefied, and I could smell the liquor from afar. Absinthe. The pavement around the stone bench was littered with cigarette butts that were floating in puddles of melted snow.
“Hello,” said the police chief, and he suddenly sounded embarrassed. “Full up, please. Super. And clean the windshields.” Then he turned to me. “Let’s go in.”
Only now did I notice a tavern sign over the only visible window, a red metal disk. And over the door was the name of the place: Zur Rose. We stepped into a dirty corridor. The stench of beer and schnapps. The chief walked ahead of me. He opened a wooden door; evidently he had been here before. The barroom was dark and dingy, a couple of rough-hewn tables and benches, the walls papered with cutout pictures of movie stars; the Austrian radio was giving a market report for the Tyrol, and behind the counter, barely discernible, stood a haggard woman in a dressing gown, smoking a cigarette and washing glasses.
“Two coffees with cream,” said the chief.
The woman went about preparing the coffee. From the adjoining room came a sloppy-looking waitress who looked about thirty years old to me.
“She’s sixteen,” the chief muttered.
The girl served us our coffees. She was wearing a black skirt and a white, half-open blouse, with nothing underneath; her skin was unwashed. She was blond, as the woman behind the counter must once have been, and her hair was uncombed.
“Thank you, Annemarie,” the chief said, and laid the money on the table. The girl, too, did not reply, did not even thank him. We drank in silence. The coffee was awful. The chief lit himself a Bahianos. The Austrian radio was now discussing the water level and the girl shuffled off to the room next door, where we saw something whitish shimmering, probably an unmade bed.
“Let’s go,” said the chief.
Outside, after a glance at the pump, he paid the old man for filling the tank and cleaning the windshields.
“Next time,” the chief said by way of farewell, and again I noticed his helpless air; but the old man still didn’t reply; he was back on his bench, staring into space, stupefied, obliterated. When we had reached the Opel and turned around again, the old man was clenching his fists, shaking them, and whispering, pressing the words out in brief, forceful gasps, his face transfigured by an immense faith: “I’ll wait, I’ll wait, he’ll come, he’ll come.”
“To be honest,” Dr. H. began later as we were approaching the Kerenz Pass—the road was icy again, and beneath us lay Lake Walen, glittering, cold, forbidding; also, the leaden weariness from the Medomin had come back, the memory of the smoky taste of the whiskey, the feeling of gliding along in an endless, meaningless dream—“to be honest, I have never thought highly of detective novels and I rather regret that you, too, write them. It’s a waste of time. Though what you said in your lecture yesterday was worth hearing; since the politicians have shown themselves to be so criminally inept—and it takes one to know one, I’m a member of Parliament, as I’m sure you’re aware….” (I had no idea, I was listening to his voice as if from a great distance, barricaded behind my tiredness, but attentive, like an animal in its lair.)
“…People hope the police at least will know how to put the world in order, which strikes me as the most miserable thing you could possibly hope for. But unfortunately, these mystery stories perpetrate a whole different sort of deception. I don’t even mean the fact that your criminals are always brought to justice. It’s a nice fairy tale and is probably morally necessary. It’s one of those lies that preserve the state, like that pious homily ‘crime doesn’t pay’—when all that’s required to test this particular piece of wisdom is to have a good look at human society; no, I’d let all that pass, for business reasons if nothing else, because every reader and every taxpayer has a right to his heroes and his happy end, and it’s our job to deliver that—I mean ours as policemen, just as much as it’s your job as writers. No, what really bothers me about your novels is the story line, the plot. There the lying just takes over, it’s shameless. You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: here’s the criminal, there’s the victim, here’s an accomplice, there’s a beneficiary; and all the detective needs to know is the rules, he replays the moves of the game, and checkmate, the criminal is caught and justice has triumphed. This fantasy drives me crazy. You can’t come to grips with reality by logic alone. Granted, we of the police are forced to proceed logically, scientifically; but there is so much interference, so many factors mess up our clear schemes, that success in our business very often amounts to no more than professional luck and pure chance working in our favor. Or against us. But in your novels, chance plays no part, and if something looks like chance, it’s made out to be some kind of fate or providence; the truth gets thrown to the wolves, which in your case are the dramatic rules. Get rid of them, for God’s sake. Real events can’t be resolved like a mathematical formula, for the simple reason that we never know all the necessary factors, just a few, and usually a rather insignificant few. And chance—the incalculable, the incommensurable—plays too great a part. Our laws are based only on probability, on statistics, not on causality; they apply to the general rule, not the particular case. The individual can’t be grasped by calculation. Our criminological methods are inadequate, and the more we refine them, the more inadequate they get. But you fellows in the writing game don’t care about that. You don’t try to grapple with a reality that keeps eluding us, you just set up a manageable world. That world may be perfect, but it’s a lie. Forget about perfection if you want to make headway and get at the way things actually are, at reality, like a man; otherwise you’ll be left fiddling around with useless stylistic exercises. But let’s get to the point.
“I’m sure you were surprised by a few things this morning. First of all, by my own talk; a former chief of the Zurich cantonal police should express more moderate views. But I am old and I’ve stopped lying to myself. I know very well what a dubious bunch we all are, how little we can accomplish, how easily we make mistakes; but I also know that we have to act anyway, even at the risk of acting wrongly.
“Then you must also have wondered why I stopped at that miserable gas station, and I’ll confess it to you right away: that pathetic drunken wreck who filled up our tank used to be my most capable man. God knows I knew something about my profession, but Matthäi was a genius, and this to a degree that puts all your paper detectives to shame.
“The story happened almost nine years ago,” H. continued after passing a Shell oil truck. “Matthäi was one of my inspectors, or rather, one of my first lieutenants—we use military ranks in the cantonal police. He was a lawyer, like me, a Baseler who had taken his doctorate in Basel, and among certain groups that made his acquaintance ‘professionally,’ his nickname was ‘Dead-end Matthäi.’ After a while we called him that, too. He was a lonely man, always neatly dressed, impersonal, formal, aloof; he didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, but on the job he was tough as nails, downright ruthless, and as hated as he was successful. I was never able to figure him out. I think I was the only person he liked—because I have a soft spot for clearheaded people, even though his lack of humor often got on my nerves. He was extremely bright, but the all too solid structures in our country had made him emotionless. He was what you’d call an organization man, and he used the police apparatus like a slide rule. He wasn’t married, he never spoke of his private life—probably he didn’t have one. The only thing he thought about was his job. He was a top-notch detective, but he worked without passion. He was stubborn, tireless, but when you watched him in action, he appeared to be bored; until one day he got embroiled in a case that suddenly stirred him to passion.
“He was at the pinnacle of his career at the time. There had been some difficulties with him in the department. I was going to be retired, and my most likely successor was Matthäi. But there were obstacles to his appointment that couldn’t be ignored. Not only that he didn’t belong to any party, but the rank and file would have objected. The cantonal government, on the other hand, was hesitant to pass over such a capable man. So when the government of Jordan asked the federal government to send an expert to Amman to reorganize their police, it was like a godsend: Matthäi was recommended by Zurich and accepted by Berne and Amman. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. He, too, was pleased, and not just for professional reasons. He was about fifty then—a little desert sun would do him good, he figured; he looked forward to the trip, to the flight across the Alps and the Mediterranean; probably he imagined this would be his final farewell from us, for he hinted that afterward he would move to Denmark to live with a widowed sister there—and he was just clearing out his desk in the cantonal police headquarters on Kasernenstrasse when the call came.”
“Matthäi had a hard time making sense of that jumbled report,” the chief continued. “It was one of his old ‘clients’ calling from Mägendorf, a little hole in the wall near Zurich. The man was a peddler named von Gunten. Matthäi wasn’t really in the mood to take up this case on his last afternoon on the job. He had already bought his plane ticket, he’d be leaving in three days. But I was away at a conference of police chiefs and wasn’t expected back from Berne until evening. This case called for competent handling; inexperience could spoil everything. Matthäi called the police station in Mägendorf. It was near the end of April, buckets of rain splashing down outside, the föhn had blown into the city, but the nasty, malignant heat persisted, and people could hardly breathe.
“Officer Riesen picked up the phone.
“‘Is it raining in Mägendorf, too?’ Matthäi asked, ill-humored, even though he could guess the answer, and when he heard it, his face looked even gloomier. Then he gave the man instructions to keep an inconspicuous watch on the peddler who was staying at The Stag in Mägendorf.
“Matthäi hung up.
“‘Something happen?’ Feller asked curiously. He was helping his boss pack his belongings—mainly books, which Matthäi had accumulated over the years, a whole library.
“‘It’s raining in Mägendorf, too,’ the inspector replied. ‘Get the emergency squad ready.’
“‘Damned rain,’ Matthäi muttered in place of an answer, indifferent to Feller’s hurt feelings.
“But before he joined the examining magistrate and Lieutenant Henzi, who were waiting impatiently in their car, he leafed through von Gunten’s dossier. The man had a record. Sexual molestation of a fourteen-year-old girl.”
“That very first order to have the peddler watched turned out to be a mistake that could not have been foreseen. Mägendorf was a small community. Mostly farmers, though some men worked in the factories down in the valley or in the brickyard nearby. There were a few city people living out there, two or three architects, a neoclassical sculptor, but they played no part in the village. Everyone knew everyone else, and most people were related. The village was in conflict with the city, not officially, but secretly; for the woods surrounding Mägendorf belonged to the city, a fact which no real Mägendorfer had ever taken into account, to the great annoyance of the forest administration, who finally insisted that a police station be set up in Mägendorf. And there was another problem: on Sundays, people came streaming in from the city and took over the village; and many others were drawn to The Stag at night. With all these factors to consider, the man stationed there had to be a capable policeman, but he also had to be on good terms with the village. Officer Wegmüller, who was assigned there, understood this fairly quickly. He came from a peasant family, drank a lot, and kept his Mägendorfers well in hand, though he made so many concessions that I really should have intervened; but to me—in part because of our shortage of manpower—he was
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