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

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.


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