The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Detlef Bernd Blettenberg (October 13, 1949, Wirges - ) is a German writer and reporter.

Blettenberg was born an only child in a working class family, growing up in Elgendorf, a small village community. In 1966, he moved to Leverkusen where he undertook an apprenticeship as a draughtsman in mechanical engineering. He then did his military service, and after attending the Naval Signal School at Flensburg- Mürwig he went to sea as a radio operator.

In 1972, he joined an international development agency where he would spend the next two decades. He was a development worker in Ecuador between 1972-76 where he helped coordinate vocational training at the Ministry of Education in Quito. Ecuador was the setting of his novels Weint nicht um mich in Quito and Agaven sterben einsam.

Between 1982-86, Blettenberg was a commissioner in the German Development Service in Thailand; 1992-94 in Nicaragua; 2003-2004 in Ghana. His novels Siamesische Hunde and Farang were set in Thailand, while Blauer Rum and Null Uhr Managua were set in Nicaragua, and Murnaus Vermächtnis in Ghana.

Between these missions abroad, he worked as a consultant for vocational training and trade promotion in Bonn and later in Berlin. These roles led him regularly to Africa, Latin America, Asia and Arabia. In addition, he has published technical papers for professional training, for business promotion and technology transfer. Berlin is the stage for several of his novels, especially in Barbachs Bilder and Berlin Fidschitown. Impressions from his numerous foreign trips are reflected in the novels Harte Schnitte and Land der guten Hoffnung.

Blettenberg is married to the actress Andrea Heuer.


Blettenberg is a four-time winner of the Deutscher Krimi Preis: Farang (1989), Blauer Rum (1995), Berlin Fidschitown (2004), and Murnaus Vermächtnis (2011).


Check out this appraisal of Blettenberg's books: "Being involved heightens the feelings" : Political detective novels on the edge by DB Blettenberg by Elfriede Müller (translated by Sue Neale).


Again, no English translation appears to have come out. I did find a Romanian title.

Jul 14, 2014

Hans Werner Kettenbach

[Continuing my series of little biographical sketches of winners of the Deutscher Krimi Preis. This one is a quick and dirty translation of Peter Mohr's note "A Late Bloomer" in celebration of Hans Werner Kettenbach's 80th birthday, published on May 14, 2008, at]

For a highly successful writer, Hans Werner Kettenbach may have found his way to literature unusually late in life, but actually he has always been a late bloomer. He started his first job at age 28, he married at thirty, he graduated at the age of 36, and he only published his first novel just before his 50th birthday. In between he had been a construction worker, a stenographer and an Assistant Editor of the sports magazine "Kicker". When he was planning to emigrate to Caracas, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger offered a job. Clearly this was anything than a model curriculum vitae for a writer.

A happy coincidence paved the way for Hans Werner Kettenbach, who was born on April 20, 1928 in Bendorf near Koblenz, to enter the world of literature. In 1977, he participated in a crime competition offered by a prestigious publishing house. With his manuscript Grand mit Vieren, which he had written after careful design in fourteen days, he won the first prize.

It was followed by the novels Glatteis (Black Ice), Sterbetage (filmed under the title Im Jahr der Schildkröte), and Schmatz oder Die Sackgasse which netted the Deutscher Krimi Preis for him in 1988. Nevertheless, the successful author remained a part-time writer. His main profession continued at the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" - until his retirement in 1992 as Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

Kettenbach's two hats - journalism and literature - were extremely fruitful. Journalism informed the timeliness of his novels, and literature meant a respite from the politics of the day, while the many contacts he had made as a political journalist proved of great benefit for his literary work.

The novel Die Konkurrentin (2002), in which a successful local politician becomes entangled in a finely spun web of intrigue, takes place in a major Rhineland city. Here, one presumes, Kettenbach drew equally from his journalistic experience as he did in Kleinstadtaffäre (2004), in which the aging, successful writer Carl Wallot comes to a reading in a small town and is drawn into a power struggle with the dodgy manufacturer Kepler, who pulls all the strings in the province. Meanwhile, Zu Gast bei Dr. Buzzard (2006) goes into the mysterious events and emotional rollercoaster rides of two couples who befriend each other while travelling in the United States.

In addition, the passionate cigar smoker has been equally successful as a screenwriter: he wrote some episodes for the series Peter Strohm at the end of 1980s, the script "Ausgespielt" (with Manfred Krug), and was also involved in the film adaptation of his novel Davids Rache (David's Revenge) (1995).

He is inspired "not only by Patricia Highsmith, but also by Georges Simenon", says Hans Werner Kettenbach. For him, it's not just the psychologizing, but also the exciting stories of sympathetic ordinary figures standing in the background. In the near future he would like to fulfil his younger daughter's wish and "finally write a cheerful book".


Kettenbach's Schmatz oder Die Sackgasse won the Deutscher Krimi Preis in 1988.


I'm pleased to say that not only has Hans Werner Kettenbach been translated into English but I've also read one of his books. Glatteis (Black Ice) was decent, although for some reason I don't appear to have mentioned it during my various slogs through translated crime fiction. Perhaps I misremember how good it was? This book, The Stronger Sex and David's Revenge are all available from that fine publisher Bitter Lemon Press.

Jul 8, 2014

Michael Molsner

[Continuing my series of little biographies of winners of the Deutscher Krimi Preis. This one comprises translated excerpts from the German Wikipedia.]

Heiner Michael Molsner (April 23, 1939, Stuttgart - ) is a German journalist, scriptwriter and author of crime fiction and children's books.

The son of a writer and a journalist, Molsner grew up in Olsztyn, Aalen and Munich. After graduating high school in 1959, he studied German and English literature at the University of Heidelberg. Following an editorial internship, he first held a court reporter role in Munich, then journalism appointments in Hamburg and Hanover. Since 1968, he has been a freelance writer. He is one of the founders of the "Verband deutscher Schriftsteller" (Association of German Writers), a body representing the interests of professional writers, and "Autorengruppe deutschsprachige Kriminalliteratur – Das Syndikat" (The Syndicate, an association of German crime fiction authors).

Since 2000, Molsner has lived in the Ruhr area - first in Dortmund and now in Duisburg.

Acclaim in the press has been widespread: "This man knows how to entertain an audience." (Buchreport, May 2000); "Unusually smart ... his novels have Anglo-Saxon qualities" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 16, 1985); "...has narrative verve and a sophisticated understanding of the social milieu" (Frankfurter Rundschau, 1996); "The best kind of challenging and addictive word play that I can think of" (Eugen Drewermann reviewing Molsner's Schwarzen Faktor). Der Spiegel wrote: "...Molsner, a trained journalist, has proven to have the greatest narrative range and multifaceted understanding of the social conditions and consequences of crime. These are exemplified in his thriller Rote Messe, published in 1973: a sociological study of a small town fearful of student agitations leading to the deaths of two migrant workers. Molsner has been compared to Leonard Sciascia and Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and lauded for his "educative entertainments and entertaining educations".


Michael Molsner has won the Deutscher Krimi Preis thrice: Die Euro-Ermittler: Der ermordete Engel (1987), Unternehmen Counterforce (1988), and Die Ehre einer Offiziersfrau and Euro-Ermittler: Urians Spur (1989). In 1998, he was awarded a special prize by The Syndicate for his services to the German crime fiction fraternity.

The Euro-Ermittler (Investigator) series dealt with issues of economic and state crime. Another of his series Global-Agenten examined political topics across Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle-East.


When asked why he wrote crime fiction, he replied: "I was a child in Olsztyn, East Prussia - northeast of Auschwitz and southwest of the Wolf's Lair. Murder there was an everyday office business. The quotidian life is the subject of literature. But literature must also be fun. And so we have the sellable form: crime fiction."

Jul 2, 2014


Alan Sillitoe's collection of short stories The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner focuses on the working class mid-Englander. In the story 'Uncle Ernest', the hero has just earned £10 for upholstering some divans, and wants to get himself a nice breakfast. He orders tea and tomatoes on toast:
A steamy appetising smell rose from the plate: he took up the knife and fork and, with the sharp clean action of the craftsman, cut off a corner of the toast and tomato and raised it slowly to his mouth, eating with relish and hardly noticing people sitting roundabout. Each wielding of the knife and fork, each geometrical cut of the slice of toast, each curve and twist of his lips joined in a complex and regular motion that gave him great satisfaction. He ate slowly, quietly and contentedly, aware only of himself and his body being warmed and made tolerable once more by food. The leisurely movement of a spoon and cup and saucer made up the familiar noise of late breakfast in a crowded cafe, sounded like music flowing here and there in variations of rhythm.

Jun 26, 2014

Frank Göhre

[Continuing my series of little biographies of winners of the Deutscher Krimi Preis. This one is a vague translation of a profile of Frank Göhre titled 'The Exception', by Ilke Kreutzträger (November 12, 2010), on]

Gruff, shameless, profound. That's the kind of books Frank Göhre writes. He gradually developed a reputation as a pornographer of the crime genre. Many photographs show him in a hat, with moustache and long coat, always looking a little grim. Just as a crime writer should.

On his webpage, he has written an 'Obituary within a lifetime' for himself. ...his sexual fantasies became so extensive that his manuscripts were no longer accepted. His writing career ended abruptly. The once-popular writer spent his last years in a hotel suite on Miami Beach, where he died in the arms of a Cuban transvestite last Friday.

And waiting at the appointed spot on the overpass by the jetty is this older gentleman. He wears a baseball cap for his stroll along the harbour. He has a warm handshake, a soft voice, kind eyes.

Frank Göhre was born in 1943 in Děčín (in the Sudetenland), and grew up in Bochum. At the age of 15, he quit school because, as he says, he was so bad at Latin. It did not look like he'd become the writer who would later in life be feted as an innovator in the German noir. He worked at a wholesale merchant's and then trained to be a bookseller. At the end of the 1960s, he joined the protests against the miserable training conditions faced by apprentices, and began at this time to write his first short stories.

He won a prize for a radio drama, and then began to receive commissions from the German public radio stations (NDR and WDR). Before he decided to become a freelance writer in 1973, he continued as a bookseller.

It seems he learned his meticulous work habits from that time. He is no mere storyteller; he is a researcher. He does not merely invent characters and let them do fictional things, but rather he investigates their personalities and saves everything he learns in case he might need it for a later story. He writes in his diary how the weather was, keeps newspaper clippings, notes down current events, scribbles on a possible story that might be interesting to a reader, perhaps even evoked memories of the time.

Göhre came to Hamburg in 1981 where he lives today with his wife in Winterhude, close to the city park. He teaches at the writers' school in Hamburg, or the screenplay camp in Freiburg, or at Ludwigsburg's Film Academy.

He doesn't like the fixed nature of a screenplay where from the outset, everything should hold together rigidly. While writing a novel, he feels much freer. He might know more or less the kind of solution he might propose for a story, but if his wife asked him on an evening which direction he might take, he would be unable to offer any information.

Göhre's daily routine is much more predictable. He is a morning person. By eight, he is usually seated at his desk in his four metres square study which is full of bookshelves. In fact, only the balcony is free from books. He writes in the mornings, and in the afternoons, he works on proofs or answers emails. The hard tasks. His wife has noticed a certain rhythm in his work, he says. He might write fast and loose a day or two, do nothing for the next two or three days, and then throw much away. Previously there were days when entire passages of text were consigned to the trashcan, and he thought he was lost for days. But nowadays he is not worried.

In his novel, Eloi - Der Auserwählte (Eloi - The Chosen One) it took Göhre five attempts to find the right beginning. Five times he wrote the text, cut out individual paragraphs, shifted the snippets back and forth, trying different combinations until they fit.

Göhre preserved all the intermediate steps of his work. He cleared out his attic, installed shelves and set up his archive. All his works are saved, even the double editions. When he is finished with a book, he said, he packed everything into an IKEA box and took it to the attic. He has finalised his will, he said. He doesn't think of death, but he knows there are family disputes in the estates of many authors.

He speaks of his new book in the same satisfied tones he spoke of his estate. Nobody in the German-speaking world writes as he does, he says, no one interleaves their plots as him. People have praised his flashbacks and changes of perspective. This is not difficult for him because he thinks not in dialogue but in images. He is an exception, he says. And there is no immodesty or boastfulness in this claim.

His years as a bookseller have given him a long view into the genre. It is something missing in his younger colleagues. Many have never heard of Chandler, he says, his face looking grim for the first time. Writing detective fiction is not as easy as many retired teachers seem to think, he says. It does not merely involve an assembly of characters, red herrings and then revealing the most unexpected person as the perpetrator.

In the summer, Göhre and his wife want to stay a month in Amsterdam. He will collect stories, do some research. Next week he will go there to find a small apartment with a garden, overlooking the canal. He has always wanted to do this, he says, and now he finally has the time.


Frank Göhre won the Deutscher Krimi Preis in 1987 for Der Schrei des Schmetterlings, and in 2011 for Der Auserwählte.


English translations? Pshaw.

Jun 23, 2014


Shamsa went about showing us her many robes and accoutrements. This is my dark-red shawl, and here is the red linen tjikit, lined in wool felt. Here is my yellow bashtamal, embroidered in flowers. I tie it like an apron under this thick belt, my futeyh. It protects my kidneys and spine when I carry heavy loads. Now, this is my tiri, this brilliant green robe, split in front and on each side so that I can walk with long strides in the steppe. And under the sky-blue yalik that keeps my ribs warm, see, here is my white linen ishligh, falling over lilac knickers, shilwar, and my stockings, or ghurik, also lilac. On my feet, did you notice the leather teshrek that we make ourselves, from animal hide? 
Look, here is what I put on my head, a red fez or tarbush, and this is my silvery veil, a bashlak, decorated with gold coins. Over all of this I throw square scarves, called bushi, each one a different colour. I knot them all around my temples, leaving one to throw back like a headscarf. But it must never cover my face or braids.

Hoda Barakat, The Tiller Of Waters.

Jun 20, 2014

Horst Bieber

[Continuing my series of little biographical posts of the Deutschen Krimi Preis winners, translated from the German Wikipedia.]

Horst Bieber (January 12, 1942, Essen - ) is a German journalist and writer of crime fiction.

Bieber studied history, philosophy and German literature at university, obtaining a doctoral degree. He began his journalism career at the Essener Tageszeitung. He is a political editor has also been a member of the editorial board of Die Zeit.

His writing career began with historical non-fiction: a book on Paul Rohrbach - a conservative journalist and critic of the Weimar Republic (1972), and a work on Portugal (1975). In 1982, he published his first thriller Sackgasse (Dead end).

In his novels, Bieber addresses topical issues of society and politics: data protection, the intrusiveness of intelligence agencies, problematic police investigations. His strengths are the precision of his observation and strong storytelling talent.

Bieber has also written several crime dramas for radio, broadcast on the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, German public radio.

Bieber's journalistic career is well-respected: his work on environmental issues and the Green party, in particular, has been recognised.

In 1987, Bieber received the Deutscher Krimi Preis for Sein letzter Fehler (His Last Error).


And, again, no sign of English versions of his books. Found a Polish one, though...

Ángel Vivas' article 1989-2014: las 25 mejores novelas was published recently in El Mundo. I'm distressed, nay, delighted, no, appalled, er, indifferent, in short, a bundle of contradictions when I report that I haven't read any of these books. And I style myself a reader. I wouldn't blame you if you took this opportunity to go elsewhere for your literary fix.

No, no, please stay.

Note that these are books written by authors born in Spain and who write in Spanish (so no Galician or Catalan or Basque or - help me out here - any other language spoken in that country).

En La Orilla : Rafael Chirbes (2013). A stark portrait of modern Spain, combing through such evils as real estate speculation and careerism. (Careerism? What's he on about?) This book may soon be available in translation, published by Harvill Secker.

La noche de los tiempos : Antonio Muñoz Molina (2009). An ambitious and comprehensive account of the civil war, written with an evident desire to avoid sectarianism. Or, as the Americans might put it, a bipartisan narrative.

Crematorio : Rafael Chirbes (2007). Him again. Why aren't his works easy to find in English? 

Rabos de lagartija : Juan Marsé (2000). Set in post-war Spain, this explores the complex relationship between truth and falsehood, appearance and reality.

Juegos de la edad tardía : Luis Landero (1989). This was his first novel, wandering across a domain of unfulfilled dreams, contrasting reality and desire.

El hereje : Miguel Delibes (1998). A group of Protestants were burned in Valladolid in the mid-sixteenth century. Delibes wrote this rich novel as a defence of freedom of conscience.

Verdes valles, colinas rojas : Ramiro Pinilla (2004). A fresh and ambitious take on the social transformation of the Basque country since the 19th century.

La larga marcha : Rafael Chirbes (1996). Bildungsroman of humiliation, silence, survival from the Spanish Civil War to the end of the Franco regime. Complex and uncomplacent.

El día de mañana: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón (2011). A kaleidoscopic structure tells the story in the style of classic movies of a social climber, through whom the author does something to the Spain of the 60s and 70s when the transition to democracy was incubated. (Or intubated?)

El mal de Montano : Enrique Vila-Matas (2002). A hypnotic meta-novel with a self-referential style that fascinates and irritates in equal measure.

Los peces de la amargura : Fernando Aramburu (2006). In one of the few incursions of Spanish narrative into the problems and consequences of terrorism, Aramburu is openly committed to its victims and to their memory.

Corazón tan blanco : Javier Marías (1992). An elegant, intriguing and subtle story of complex emotional relationships. Should one know everything about one's love? Should some things remain hidden? 

El Metro de Platino Iridiado : Álvaro Pombo (1990). Pombo has a particular sympathy for female characters, which he displays this in this excellent literary work.

Galíndez : Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1991). A representative of the Basque government in exile, Galíndez was kidnapped and murdered by the police of the Dominican dictator Trujillo after he escaped to Santo Domingo following the Spanish Civil War. Montalbán's investigative novel is brilliant.

La ruina del cielo : Luis Mateo Díez (1999). The Ruins of Heaven is the second in Díez's trilogy depicting the impending destruction of rural culture. An impeccable literary anthropology of death. (Shivers down my spine at that last sentence. And shivers back up again.)

El embrujo de ShanghaiJuan Marsé (1993). Marsé! Marsé! He returns to seduce you with his seemingly simple style and a bittersweet story that deals with the loss of innocence! Oh, Marsé!

Estatua con palomas: Luis Goytisolo (1992). A confluence of two histories, one in modern Barcelona, the other in classical Rome, characterised by the skill and quality of Goytisolo's language.

Romanticismo : Manuel Longares (2001). An ironic and elevated examination of the last years of the Franco dictatorship, set in Madrid and Salamanca.

Leyenda Del Cesar Visionario : Francisco Umbral (1991). A fictional memoir of recent events, mixing history with imagination, a free and literary exploration of the Civil War in Burgos and Salamanca veering between the mythic and the realistic. (How many different ways can one say 'real' and 'imagined'?)

El Corazón Helado : Almudena Grandes (2007). Finally! A woman. Intense and exciting tale of two families, filled with unforgettable characters and intrigue, all in the shadow of the Civil War.

Soldados De Salamina : Javier Cercas (2001). More Civil War narrative (available as Soldiers of Salamis, in translation).

La Saga de los Marx: Juan Goytisolo (1993). Following the collapse of Communism, fleeing Albanians seek a better life in a capitalist Europe. Goytisolo writes a novel-within-a-novel, telling the family history of Marx in the context of his theoretical and political legacy.

El espiritu aspero : Gonzalo Hidalgo Bayal (2009). Metaliterary masterpiece, verbal masterpiece, a taste of linguistic masterpiecery from the Baroque to Oulipo.

El Cazador de Leones : Javier Tomeo (1989). A master of Kafkaesque concision and absurdity, this is a collection of short stories that dissects its characters like an entomologist. 

Los Girasoles Ciegos : Alberto Méndez (2004). More narrative on the civil war, enhanced by language of true quality. Not one of your weak and conformist novels.

So there you go. One book by a woman out of twenty-five. Who says machismo is dead? 

But if you'd like to better the averages a bit, a commenter recommended Olvidado rey Gudú by Ana María Matute.

[Continuing my series of little biographical posts of the Deutscher Krimi Preis winners. This one is badly translated from the German Wikipedia articles on Norbert Klugmann and Peter Mathews]
Norbert Klugmann (August 27, 1951, Uelzen - ) is a German journalist and novelist. He has written crime fiction, thrillers, satire and children's books.

Klugmann was the youngest of three children born to Hildegard, a housewife, and Willi Klugmann, a canteen worker at the town railway station. The family had come from Eastern Pomerania, fleeing to the West post-World War II. After high school, Klugmann first studied German and sociology at Hamburg University, with the aim of becoming a teacher; he also took some classes in general studies including medicine, but did not finish at the University.

In 1979, Klugmann met the actress Karin Roscher-Hoffknecht; they married two years later. They had a daughter in 1996, and divorced in 2005. Since 1998, Klugmann has lived in Wellingsbüttel, near Hamburg.

Klugmann's journalistic career began in 1979: he freelanced for the music magazine Sounds,and also took up a role in the press office of the Norddeutscher Rundfunks. In the 1980s, he worked for Zeit magazine. Backed by his earnings, he was then able to concentrate on his literary career.

Between the 1970s and 2012, Klugmann had written over 70 novels, of which ten were in collaboration with Peter Mathews.


Peter Mathews (October 22, 1951, Bremerhaven - ) is a German author of crime fiction, a ghostwriter and copywriter.

Mathews took up an apprenticeship as an industrial clerk at the Hamburg school of Economics and Politics, and graduated with a degree in Economics. Until 1980, he worked at various publishers, while between 1980 and 2000, he was an advertising manager, editor and publisher at Rowohlt publishing house. From 2004-2008, he was a literary agent and publisher, and since 2008, he has worked as a freelance journalist in Berlin.

Between 1984 and 1999, he collaborated with Norbert Klugmann on a series of crime novels and stories, and also published a thriller magazine.


Norbert Klugmann and Peter Mathews won the Deutscher Krimi Preis in 1986 for their novels Flieg, Adler Kühn and Ein Kommissar für alle Fälle.

Jun 11, 2014

Shrimp Provencale

In Frei Betto's Hotel Brasil, Mônica wants to make a camarões à la provençal for Cândido.
While Mônica cleaned up the shrimp and marinated them in salt and orange juice, Cândido chopped up the garlic so fine it was as if he was trying to split atoms. She put the rice on to boil, adding nothing by way of seasoning, but lining the bottom of the pan with extra virgin olive oil. As she did so, a satisfying feeling came over her. […] 
He added a few splashes of molho de pimento to the camarões, while she drizzled olive oil over the side salad.
As the rice cooked on the hob and the prawns baked in the oven, Mônica and Cândido sat on footstools, glasses of vinho in their hands. […] 
When the food was ready, they tipped the pan of rice over the shrimp, added a little parsley and gave everything a good stir. They took the dish into the lounge, where the table lay beautifully set and candlelit.

Jun 8, 2014

Peter Schmidt

[Continuing my series of little biographical posts of the Deutscher Krimi Preis winners. This one is badly translated from the French Wikipedia.]

Peter Schmidt (August 11, 1944 - ) is a German psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of crime and science fiction. He is also known under his nom-de-plumes of Peter Cahn and Mike Jaeger.

Schmidt was born in Gescher, Germany. He studied literature and philosophy at the University of Bochum, with a specialisation in psychology.

During the Cold War, German critics considered Schmidt the one serious writer in espionage fiction (Stern magazine). His novel Schafspelz (Sheepskin) was recognised as the first breach in the Anglo-Saxon monopoly of thrillers (Capital magazine). In his novels, Schmidt anticipated many developments in contemporary society: the collaboration of the German ministry of national security with the Red Army Faction (Die Regeln der Gewalt (Rules of Violence)), or corrupt monetary dealings by East Germany's Finance Minister Schalk-Golodkowski (Ein Fall von großer Redlichkeit (A Case of Great Honesty)), which led to his being persecuted by the Stasi during his travels in the Eastern bloc.

In his ambiguous and enigmatic detective comedies (Linders Liste (1988), Roulette (1992), Schwarzer Freitag (1993)) Schmidt also represents a unique genre of literary crime novel, which is dominated by irony, philosophical reflection and satirical approach to human weaknesses. Meanwhile, the starting point of Einsteins Gehirn (2012) is a historical crime: after Einstein's death the pathologist Thomas Harvey stole the brain of the creator of the theory of relativity. When, after years of travelling around the United States in the back of Harvey's truck, it was returned to the Princeton hospital, a Swiss admirer of the genius commissioned a small-time crook Edwin Klein to nick the precious relic and bring it to Europe. It is a curious confusion. Half a century later the 14-year old Albert researches the circumstances of his birth, as he encounters a mysterious bottle of nitrogen in his father's basement. During his own odyssey around the globe, Albert, hailed as a wunderkind because of his superior intellectual abilities, is invited to talk shows on CNN; he appears on the cover of Time magazine, discusses happiness with the Dalai Lama, argues with President George W. Bush about the failure of his foreign policy, and during an audience with Pope Benedict, finally the mystery of his true origin is resolved.

Schmidt's science fiction includes Gen Crash (1994), an epidemiology thriller involving scientists researching a cure for influenza; 2999 - Das dritte Millennium (1999) depicts a high-tech ecological dictatorship in a Europe that remains green while the other continents continue to pollute (this book, amazingly, has been translated into Czech. Czech!); Endzeit (2004) has a mad researcher who creates prehistoric pterosaurs that terrorise his city.

In his philosophical novel Montag oder Die Reise nach innen (Monday, or the Inward Journey) (1989), Schmidt describes the progression of a meditative consciousness towards greater emotional intelligence in the style of a Bildungsroman, telling the story of a gifted young protagonist, Marc Herzbaum. The ideas in the novel germinated from his own scientific researches into emotional intelligence: Schmidt developed a cognitive technique called EQ-Training, which enabled people to overcome stress, allowing them to better control their fears and other negative feelings.

Schmidt is a three-time winner of the Deutscher Krimi Preis: Erfindergeist (1986); Die Stunde des Geschichtenerzählers (1987); Das Veteranentreffen (1991). He has also won the Ruhr Literary Prize in 1994 for his lifetime of work.

And - as far as I can make out - none of his novels has been translated into English.

Jun 5, 2014

Another Old Photo

Boris Akunin likes to trawl through old family photo-albums and gaze at the portraits and try to imagine what fates befell their subjects. Often he looks for a long time at a photograph and concocts an entire biography, and then he looks at the back of it and more often than not realises that his romantic imaginations do not match the facts.

This is a picture he posted on his blog.

A lovely little girl. Surely, thought Akunin, this is a girl who had a wonderful destiny, beautiful loves, a life full of drama and unexpected twists (after all, she would have lived in twentieth century Russia). And the girl would surely become someone, because not only was she beautiful but there were makings of an extraordinary personality.

Then he turned the photo over to the other side and learned that little Lyuba Lokshina was born March 9, 1917, and died April 12, 1929. As far as I can make out, she died when a balcony collapsed. 

As Akunin says, this is not just tragic but absurd. One can somehow get used to tragedy. But absurdity? 

Jun 2, 2014


In the instance of Tell-All, Chuck Palahniuk's first name is appropriate, for in his Katherine Kenton he has a character who eats richly and then has to toss it all up to maintain the beauty and agelessness that she is famed for. Palahniuk's acerbic tone might even mitigate the violence being done to the otherwise luxurious list of foods that Miss Kathie has consumed.
From the downstairs powder, echoing up through the silence of the town house, the sounds of Miss Kathie's gorge rises with beef Stroganoff and Queen Charlotte pears and veal Prince Orloff, heaving up from the depths of Miss Kathie, triggered by the tip of a silver spoon touching the back of her tongue, her gag reflex rejecting it all. 
Downstairs, Miss Kathie heaves out great mouthfuls of gâteau Pierre Rothschild. Bombe de Louise Grimaldi. Aunt Jemima syrup. Lady Baltimore cake. The wet, bubbling shouts of undigested Jimmy Dean sausage.

May 30, 2014


when I hear 
the word 
I reach 
for a gun 

the gun plays 
a major role in

with a gun 
paint pictures 

with a gun 
draw poems 

gather consonances 
with the gun 

with a gun 

even I 
with the aid of a gun 
from myself.

An extract from the poem by the Ryazanian poet Alexei Kolchev who died in 2013. (Via

May 27, 2014

Peter Zeindler

[Continuing my series of little posts on winners of the Deutscher Krimi Preis. Peter Zeindler already has an English Wikipedia page, so I have (rather badly) translated a recent news article on him.]

At the center of Peter Zeindler's latest detective story, Die weisse Madonna is once again the retired Secret Service Agent Konrad Sembritzki. Whoever is aware of other novels by Peter Zeindler also knows Sembritzki - he has already been the protagonist of several other spy novels by Zeindler.

Peter Zeindler was born in Zurich in 1934. He studied German, and worked as a journalist, presenter and author of radio and television plays. As a crime writer, he established himself in the 1980s: he wrote of KGB agents in Cold War settings even before genre of crime fiction in Switzerland became a vogue.

The latest case begins on a dull February evening: Konrad Sembritzki gets a mysterious phone call. The caller calls Sembritzki to a secret meeting in Einsiedeln; except that this meeting never happens: the caller is found murdered.

This is where Sembritzki's investigation begins. They lead him to the monastery church in Einsiedeln, a psychiatric clinic at Lake Constance, and from the island of Reichenau to Berlin, and then into far-right circles. This is not a high voltage thriller; rather, it is steeped in an eerie atmosphere. And yet, the reader will want to know how this story will end.

Swiss colour and international flair

Peter Zeindler is one of the most successful crime writers from Switzerland. Central to his success is that, from early on, he wrote spy novels with a Swiss flavour. His novels had from the beginning not only a Swiss atmosphere, but also a lot of international flair. His secret agents were Swiss and much of the action was set behind the Iron Curtain. Zeindler's books appealed as well to a wider readership in German-speaking countries.

(Indeed, Zeindler is the most successful Deutscher Krimi Preis winner, having obtained it four times for Der Zirkel (1986), Widerspiel (1988), Der Schattenagent (1990), and Feuerprobe (1992).)

An anti-hero, not a James Bond

One of the ingredients of Zeindler's success is his deft characterisation. Konrad Sembritzki offers the reader a high degree of identification: unlike, say, James Bond, for whom everything is easy, Sembritzki a very grounded character: a melancholic man, plagued by self-doubt, he suffers in the world, and the women with whom he'd like to succeed want no relationship with him.

For decades, Peter Zeindler has been publishing his masterly books, and they have never diminished in quality. Zeindler has remained Zeindler, an established brand with its own undying fan base. 

(From Schweizer Radio und Fensehen, "Peter Zeindler feiert seinen 80. Geburtstag mit einem neuen Krimi", February 18, 2014.)

May 21, 2014

Frieder Faist

[Continuing my series of little biographical posts of the Deutschen Krimi Preis winners, translated from the German Wikipedia.]

Frieder Faist (June 19, 1948 - August 6, 2008) was a German author of crime fiction and a screenwriter.

Faist was born in Augsburg. He served an apprenticeship as an industrial clerk and worked as an administrative officer. Until 1980, he ran a pub in his hometown, where he had lived since his birth.

He was part of a poetic group called Pitz Kinzer, which aimed to rehabilitate drug addicts by means of literature.

Faist wrote a series of crime novels set in Augsburg. He also wrote several radio plays. In 1982 and 1987, he received the Art Prize of Augsburg. In 1985, he won the Deutscher Krimi Preis for his novel Schattenspiele (1984).


And, no surprises here, his books are not available in English translation.


According to a reviewer of one of Faist's novels (Nebenrollen (1986)), Faist wrote in Chandleresque style, brimming with black humour. On the other hand, the reviewer Karl-Heinz Götze said, the humour was not as funny or as entertaining as the author wanted it to be. (Die Zeit, April 10, 1987.)

May 15, 2014

Werner Waldhoff

[Continuing my series of little biographical posts of the Deutscher Krimi Preis winners.]

Werner Waldhoff (1943 - 1997) was a German author and translator. He wrote crime fiction under the pen-name Claude Ericsson.

Waldhoff was born in Breslau. After his high school, he spent a short time in the army, following which he joined the merchant navy and travelled to Africa, America and Southeast Asia. He then started and abandoned higher studies in physics, economics and computer science. In between his studies, he worked as a waiter and a truck driver.

Waldhoff was arrested for criminal activities, including car jacking, and imprisoned for four years. He tried several times to escape from gaol. At the end of his sentence, he began to write short crime stories for popular magazines. He also began his translation work at around the same time.

Waldhoff's works include crime novels, books for children, poetry, screenplays for television dramas. Among his translations (into German) are works by authors such as Paul Theroux, Margaret Atwood, Fay Weldon, and Jack Kerouac.

In an interview he was asked what he'd like as an epitaph. "I want to speak to my lawyer," he said.

He won the Deutscher Krimi Preis in 1985 for his novels Des einen oder des anderen Glück (1983) and Ausbruch (1984).

Waldhoff died in the summer of 1997.

(Translated loosely from the German Wikipedia.)


None of his books appear to have been translated into English.

In August this year, Seoul will host the latest International Congress of Mathematicians. It's that quadrennial time when gossips begin to natter about Fields Medallists. A lot of people are talking up Manjul Bhargava. It is his last chance to win - by the time the next ICM comes around he will be older than 40. I'm hoping at least one woman will be awarded the prize this time.

In the run-up to the last ICM (in Hyderabad), I'd blogged about potential candidates for that year. None of them won. I hope to profile a few new names ahead of this year's ICM.

One that has popped up (new to me, at least) is Laure Saint-Raymond. Here is a loose translation of an interview that appeared a few days ago in Le Journal: "Laure Saint-Raymond, la boss des maths", by Louise Mussat (April 28, 2014).

Elected to the Academy of Sciences in December 2013, this top-flight researcher will participate at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul in August.

The blackboard that stretches across one of the walls of her office at the École normale supérieure (ENS) is whitened by clouds of intertwined mysterious symbols. These are equations, and they are unsurprising - Laure Saint-Raymond is a mathematician, a pearl in
her field of partial differential equations applied to problems of physics. A winner of the European Mathematical Society's Prize in 2008 and of the Joliot-Curie "Young Woman Scientist" award in 2011, she was elected to the Academy of Sciences when she was 38 years old, the youngest ever. And in August she will present a lecture in Seoul at the ICM, an unmissable event that attracts thousands of mathematicians every four years, during which the famous Fields medals are awarded.

Stratospheric Research

What does the daily life of a top mathematician look like? Wracking one's brains before a sheet of blank paper before scribbling equations on a blackboard? "Not exactly!" says this energetic researcher, smiling. "I spend a lot of time teaching, attending seminars, trawling the literature to help me keep abreast of what is happening, and communicating the results of my own research. But thinking in front of a blackboard is part of my work, and most of the time it's with my team. It's the creative phase, a mutual game during which we sometimes find nothing or sometimes not what we were looking for!"

What Laure Saint-Raymond seeks with her collaborators is to capture physical phenomena with mathematics. "My training in physics helps me to better understand the language of physicists and exchange ideas and develop an intuition for the phenomena we are trying to describe," she says. That was the year she graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from the University of Paris VI, the same year she obtained her degree in plasma physics.

All these strings to her bow have enabled her to tackle a tricky problem, first posed in 1900 and still unresolved: how does one effect a transition from a physical model to another, less complex and less precise? The scientist explains, "When we are in the presence of a rarefied gas, for example in the Earth's upper atmosphere, and we want to simulate the re-entry of a spacecraft, we use the so-called kinetic theory in which the state of the gas is characterised by a function of several variables, such as time as well as the positions of the atoms." Meanwhile, to describe the behaviour of gases around us, infinitely denser in atoms, it suffices to use a model wherein all the atoms are considered as a single continuous medium.

"What interests me is to understand how one moves from one to the other of these models: is there a smooth transition or, on the contrary, is there a discontinuity between the two descriptions which renders them both invalid in the intermediate regime?" says Laure Saint-Raymond.

Fundamental and stratospheric, this mathematics nevertheless has some physical applications: they allow us to understand better the entanglement phenomena at diferent scales of time and space, and to better account for the observed air flow around an aircraft, for example, or the formation of persistent whirlpools in the ocean.

From the Cello to the Sciences

Laure Saint-Raymond readily admits: as a child or a teenager, she had no particular attraction for mathematics. Her main thing was the cello. Then in high school, equations finally overcame the scales. "I had a facility with maths and physics, and my parents, both maths teachers, undoubtedly influenced my change in direction."

As a newly-minted bachelor in mathematics, she found the arms of the engineering industry extending towards her. However, she chose research, it being "intellectually more stimulating". In 1994, she joined the ENS where she began work on her thesis under the supervision of François Golse on the "kinetic theory of gases". To be clear: on mathematics applied to the movements of gases. Recruited by the CNRS in 2000, she spent two years as a Research Fellow before being appointed as a professor at the University of Paris VI. In 2007, she obtained a secondment at the ENS where she was made director of the department of Analysis. Currently, she is the deputy director of the Department of Mathematics and its Applications.

An exceptional journey

Her exceptional and rapid-as-lighting journey demands respect as it has happened in a largely male-dominated universe. "That is irrelevant," she counters. "My being a woman has never been a handicap, I have never been a victim of discrimination. And to do research today, it is no easier for a boy than for a girl, it's difficult for both: young people don't obtain a job till after several years of post-doctoral work, which, in some disciplines, means they have to wait till nearly 35 years of age before they are in a stable situation and able to start a family..."

Still, says Laure Saint-Raymond, her eyes shining and with enthusiasm in her voice, the game is worth the effort. "I will no doubt make a lot more money in the industry, but one's work cannot be reduced to a mere salary. Not one of my days as a teacher-researcher is like any other, and at the ENS, I have the immense freedom to conduct research that I want to do, and I enjoy myself thoroughly. This is priceless."

When she is not playing with partial differential equations, or not coaching one of her students, or not tutoring one of her six children (five boys and one girl, aged between 4 and 14 years!), Laure Saint-Raymond escapes to the mountains. Skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer, whichever, the key is to be outdoors all the time. "I really need to recharge my batteries, to disconnect completely from work, to return to the office with new ideas," she admits, and returns to whitening her blackboard again.

May 9, 2014

Helga Riedel

I created a Wikipedia page for the Deutscher Krimi Preis a while ago. Then I began to wonder - being on my usual hobby-horse these days - if these outstanding German crime novelists were ever published in English. The lack of English Wikipedia pages for the majority of the writers was a partial counter to my hope that I might find their works in translation. So I decided to translate the German Wikipedia pages for the various prize-winning authors. I'm too lazy to create new Wiki pages; instead, I'll put them up here.


Helga Riedel (August 24, 1942 - ) is a German writer, best known for her crime fiction.

She was born in Luckenwalde, Brandenburg. Her father perished at Stalingrad during the Second World War. To come of age, she got married in 1962. Four years later, she moved to Gelsenkirchen, where she began her writing career. Her first works were short stories published in local newspapers. She also wrote some poetry and plays. She was active in the Gelsenkirchen literary workshop (Literarischen Werkstatt Gelsenkirchen), where the crime writer Frank Göhre and Max von der Grün also participated.

In 1969, Riedel moved to Wyk auf Föhr (in the Friesian islands) with her children to be a teacher, having separated from her husband. One time, while hospitalised, she wrote her first crime novel, Einer muß tot, which is the story of a German teacher who marries a Turkish illegal immigrant. The book was published eventually only 14 years later.

Riedel's next novel was Wiedergänger (Revenants) which appeared in 1984. Just like its predecessor, this book was also set in northern Schleswig-Holstein.

Riedel's third novel Ausgesetzt was published in 1985. Set in the Adenauer era, between the years 1959 and 1962, it was written purporting to be a compendium of documents including a report on a teenager whose father loses his life.

That same year, Helga Riedel began her fourth novel Der kleine Tod. She suffered a serious car accident and was in a coma for a long time, which abruptly ended her literary career. There were other tragedies in her life as well - her mother believed that one of the characters in her books was based on her, and broke off contact. Her books disappeared from the shelves for several years; they were republished only in the 2000s.

Riedel was awarded the Deutscher Krimipreis for her first two books in 1985.

Since 1990, Riedel has lived in Itzehoe.

(Translated loosely from the German Wikipedia article.)


It doesn't look like her books have been translated into English.

May 3, 2014


In Knud Romer's fictionalised memoir of growing up in 1960s Denmark, Nothing But Fear, he recollects his grandmother's Gullasch.

I loved Grandmother's cooking. She made Wienerschnitzel and Kalbsfleischgeschnetzeltes mit Rösti, but best of all was her Gullasch. She would stand in the kitchen busily cooking among her old pots and her butcher's knives while the pork and the onions spat and sizzled in the pan. The air was full of spices - paprika and cinnamon and pepper - that made you sneeze, and the steam billowed up from the saucepans, filling the house with fragrances that nothing could match. It was hard not to stick a finger in to taste, and, when the moment finally arrived and the Gullasch was served, my world exploded on my palate into tastes that reached deeper and deeper and never had an end. It felt as though you had been far away on a distant journey, as though many years had passed, when you found yourself back in the sitting-room, your face glowing, and took yet another mouthful.