Nine years ago a little girl’s body was found in the woods in a farmer’s village near Zürich. Two other girls were murdered in a similar fashion several years earlier in two different townships. No trace of the perpetrator was found. The lieutenant who’s assigned the case in Zürich makes a pledge to the victim’s family to find the killer. Over the course of the investigation the detective becomes obsessed. He has no clue what forces work against him. That is the basic premise that makes up this atypical crime novel The Pledge (Das Versprechen is the German title). The story is short at 172 pages. The novella was published in 1958 by Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt and translated by Joel Agee.
The story – told in first person narrative – of The Pledge explores various themes one of which criticizes detective literature as being “unrealistic” and “deceptive” and goes on to show how. Crimes are solved purely by luck and chance. The narrative of the story is a mystery within a mystery and uses a tone that is low-key at the start but then it slowly crescendos to a quiet yet “chilling conclusion.”
Dr. H is a former police chief from the canton of Zürich. He recounts the story about one of his most capable lieutenants who at the pinnacle of his career becomes tirelessly obsessed with finding an elusive killer. The novel is tightly written and shows us what obsession looks like and it ain’t pretty. My expectations at the start of the novel changed as I progressed further into the story. There were some twists to the tale albeit not surprising ones. Whatever point the author was trying to make, he achieved it. I had no idea what to expect when I opened the book because reading the blurb I was only expecting another regular crime novel but this story is much more than that.
The story was originally titled as Requiem for a Detective that speaks to the lack of closure. The transformation of Matthäi, the inspector, who is the focal point of this parable of sorts, was quite startling. Here you have a man at the pinnacle of his career who throws it all to the side to trap an elusive killer. He’s painstakingly patient and determined. Also he’s deceitful and will use any means to meet his goal. As readers we are privy to the truth when it is finally revealed and so is Matthäi at one point but he’s so consumed that it is a blind spot for him.
This is a well written story. It caught my attention from a review I read at Mrs. Peabody Investigates blog. The Pledge is the study of obsession. I found the novel somewhat credible and the problems of the characters somewhat believable but a bit exaggerated for effect. The pacing was okay, the flow of the story was fine but some scenes did drag a bit with some added repetition. Would I read this story again? Probably. I’m giving this book a B+ because after finishing it, I kept thinking about it. The story is not very violent and is somewhat atmospheric. The best way to approach this novel is to not think of it as a mystery novel. The investigation is significant but it’s not central. The dialogue is probably the best element in the story. The Pledge is not available digitally. It’s print only and available at your favorite retailer. Thank you Mrs Peabody for reviewing this book. B+.
Source: I bought this book