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The Pledge

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226174372
ISBN-10: 0226174379
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was best known as the author of clever, morally inquisitive plays such as 'The Visit' and 'The Physicists.' In the early 1950s he also wrote three short, spellbinding mystery novels, which the University of Chicago Press has reissued in paperback with new translations from the German by Joel Agee: The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries:The Judge and His Hangman &Suspicion. The latter includes a thoughtful foreword by Sven Birkerts, who praises Dürrenmatt's talent as a captivating entertainer who could also 'play through complex moral issues with a speed-chess decisiveness and inexorability.' . . . These are slender tales. But they have the weight and texture of classics. Mystery readers should be grateful to the University of Chicago Press for bringing these gems back to life."
(Richard Lipez Washington Post 2007-02-04)

"The Swiss essayist Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-90) was a prolific writer of detective novels with a low regard for detective fiction. 'You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: all the detective needs to know is the rules, he replays the moves of the game, and checkmate, the criminal is caught and justice has triumphed. This fantasy drives me crazy.' Dürrenmatt's tale doesn't so much alter the rules as sweep all the figures to the floor. Three young girls, each with blond braids and red dresses, are found dismembered in the woods. A pattern seems to emerge, yet the attempt to catch the killer develops into a fruitless obsession which drives the head of the investigation insane. Dürrenmatt incorporates fairy-tale archetypes to distort the typical conventions of a psychological thriller—when little girls in red dresses skip off into the woods, should the investigation team focus their enquiries on a big, bad wolf? Not a book for anyone who likes a tidy conclusion, but as Dürrenmatt says: 'The only way to avoid getting crushed by absurdity, is to humbly include the absurd in our calculations.'"

(The Guardian 2006-11-25)

"A stark essay in crime and pursuit, as terse and assured in construction as the best of Simenon.
(John Coleman Spectator 1959-09-11)

"An unusual and arresting novel of crime and detection. Mr. Dürrenmatt is an accomplished and dramatic storyteller, and he has tucked into his short narrative some tantalizing moral questions."
(Charles Rolo Atlantic Monthly 1959-04-10)

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226174379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226174372
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It is difficult to review this novel, written by a Swiss author and set outside Zurich in 1957. At first, it appears to be a standard police-officer-chases-child-killer crime novel. But unlike American novels, there is little character development, sparse detail, and no subplots to "flesh out" the rather bleak storyline. The prose plods along methodically, almost mimicking its stubborn protagonist, and the dialogue is at times awkward.
But I hesitate to attribute any of this to bad writing because everything else about the story is so carefully constructed and obviously planned from the beginning. About half-way through the book, I became so engrossed I could not put it down. The final resolution, which relies heavily on coincidence, perfectly reinforces themes of randomness and absurd cruelty that run through the novel. Any other ending would seem contrived. You get the feeling that European audiences have different expectations about how stories are supposed to flow, and I strongly suspect a lot of metaphor and imagery has been lost in the translation to English.
A movie based on this novel, and starring Jack Nicholson, should be coming out soon.
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Format: Paperback
I sought out this short but sweet novel after catching the last half of the Sean Penn-directed film (yeah, I snuck in at my local multiplex, what of it?) which it inspired. The film definitely drew me in, despite the fact that I had little idea of what was going on.
As is often the case, the book is more profound than the film (which is not a knock against the screen version; after reading Durrenmatt's fine novel, I went back to see the entire movie). Told in the sparest language, "The Pledge" is the story of one man's quest to set right a wrong, taking his responsibility (and its consequences) so far as to threaten his very existence.
As other reviewers have noted, this is not a typical thriller, replete with hard-boiled narrative and the requisite twists. I found "The Pledge" to more closely echo the writings of Camus, in its examination of one man's conscience as he faces a challenge he simply can't walk away from.
A complex story simply told, "The Pledge" asks the reader to look inward and ask: "How far would you go to keep your word?"
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Format: Paperback
Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Pledge (Berkeley, 1957)

While Durrenmatt is a well-known and well-respected author, it took making a film of one of his books to get most people in the States actually reading him. This new film tie-in translation of The Pledge is a great way to start, and will hopefully lead a lot more Americans to a lot more Durrenmatt.

The Pledge is the tale of Matthai, a Swiss police inspector who becomes convinced during the investigation of a child's murder that the cops have got the wrong man. He promises the victim's mother that he will find the killer, and that promise eventually leads to complete and total obsession. The novel, told by Matthai's former superior over a long auto journey and dinner, leads exactly where you think it will, and then throws in a twist so nasty it's almost painful to read. Agee's translation was completed with an eye firmly on the readability factor, and this one goes relatively quickly (especially for a modern European novel); the payoff is well worth the time spent on the setup. Absolutely fantastic, and will cause me to have to revise my Best-of-2001 list. Very highly recommended. **** 1/2
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Format: Paperback
Stunning novel of obsession set in Switzerland from the 1940's to the 1950's. The character of Matthias was so well drawn I felt like he was someone I knew. Forget everything you ever knew about crime novels. This is a book that many of today's top criminal thriller novelists could learn from. I read it in 2 days, even getting to work late one day for having stayed up so late reading it. I couldn't put it down.
The film is equally dark and chilling, with only a handful of changes to the plot mechanisms that made the story more cinematic.
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Format: Paperback
'the Pledge' is subtitled 'A Requeim for the Detective Novel', and can be seen as part of the project of dismantling the classic detective story begun by Borges in the early 1940s: the undermining of its affirmations of law, order and reason - the very idea that mysteries can be solved and normality restored.
'The Pledge' is an ironical story in the truest, Greek sense; introduced as the story of a brilliant, loner detective made mad by obsessional dedication to a hopeless case - his belief that the wrong man was found guilty of a child murder, and his insane attempts to catch the 'true' killer, despite the mockery of his superiors and peers. The central scene takes place in a delapidated mental institute; the narrative is structured in a repetitive circle, one the hero Matthai sacrifices his mind trying to break. His obsession puts another little girl in horrible danger; and the complacent, socially-conscious police are driven to abominable acts, the forces of law and order replicating the mania of a murderous defective.
'The Pledge' is a detective story about writing detective stories: the narrator is a crime writer giving a lecture about his field: a former police Commissioner tells him the tale of Matthai's downfall, with its atrocious ironies and blind accidents, as a corrective to genre writers' neat and reassuring tidying up of messy life. The frame increases the story's ambiguity; it also allows for a number of psychological studies - Matthai himself; the character of the good-food-loving, cigar-chomping, smugly philosophical Commissioner; and, perhaps most importantly, behind the narrative screen, the narrator/author himself, with his mania for 're-ordering' and improving, and his fondness for alcohol.
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