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

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.


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