Q&A with Jutta Profijt
The Friedrich Glauser Prize is one of the highest accolades a crime novel can receive in Germany. What was your first thought after you found out you’d been nominated? Has it affected your life or your approach to writing?
Jutta Profijt: When I first heard the news, I could not believe it, because the success of the Morgue Drawer series is based on political incorrectness and black humor--two characteristics that usually find a lot of enthusiasm among readers but little appreciation among German awards committees. I was very happy, of course, but it hasn’t really changed my life or my writing. I still write for readers, not for awards committees.
Q: How did you create such a memorable pair of crime fighters? Are Martin and Pascha based on anyone you know?
JP: The idea to have a “ghost” investigating his own murder came to me when I visited the morgue in Cologne. There, among the bodies, I suddenly thought: “What if one of these deceased people is not as dead as he is supposed to be?” Thank god there is no one like Pascha around in my real life. I just wanted to create a character that really drives Martin--the only person who can hear him and who can’t get rid of him--up the wall. So I gave Pascha all the characteristics I don’t like in people: I made him uneducated, intolerant, narrow-minded, egocentric, and sexist. But he also touches my heart because he is so lonely, and his heart is in the right place. And readers like him, too.
Q: Did a real morgue drawer inspire Pascha’s new home? Why number four?
JP: Yes, there’s a real morgue drawer in Cologne, but the drawers are not numbered. I wanted Pascha to think of it as his last known address, so I chose that form; and the number had to be four because I liked the sound of the title in German.
Q: You have quite a résumé: au pair, importer/exporter, executive coach, English instructor. Have these varied experiences shaped you as a writer?
JP: I believe that everything I have done in life has had an effect on my writing, but my becoming a novelist was purely coincidence. I never planned to start writing, but it’s somewhat logical. I have always been interested in other people, curious to see what they do and to understand why they do it. Communication has always played a major part in my life, often in foreign languages as I taught and translated English and French. When writing novels, I can combine all these interests.
Q: What’s next for unlikely hero Martin Gänsewein?
JP: Pascha sticks around to give Martin a hard time. In his private life, in his job, even in the bathroom, Martin will be watched--and not just watched, because Pascha comments on and criticizes every move Martin makes. And because Pascha has reached eternity, there’s no end in sight for Martin to get rid of him.
This entertaining mix of thriller and fantasy, which was shortlisted for Germany's Friedrich Glauser Prize, works a nice twist on a familiar theme. Car thief Pascha Lerchenberg is handed a couple of really big surprises: first, he’s murdered; then he awakens in the morgue to see his body being autopsied. As if that isn’t enough to drive a recently dead man around the bend, Pascha discovers that he can communicate with the coroner, Martin Gansewein (who is understandably gob-smacked when the dead man on his table begins talking to him). The nimbly translated tale follows Pascha and Martin—a decidedly mismatched pair—as they try to solve Pascha’s murder. Pascha's first-person narration, including jaunty commentary on his post-death existence and his relationship with Martin, gives the novel an appealing extra dimension. Stories told by dead people tend to be either YA fiction or high-end literary fare—Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
comes to mind—but it’s rare to find a thriller using the technique. Fans of crime novels and out-of-body fantasies should have a very good time with this one. — David Pitt