I have to confess to not being a big consumer (or fan) of crime fiction (perhaps I just haven’t read enough good ones), but this intense and eerie little book got the better of me. Written in the 1950s, The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a Swiss dramatist and novelist, is a crime novel with a twist designed to challenge the formulaic (according to Dürrenmatt) nature of the genre.
In a small Swiss rural town a 14-year-old girl is found murdered in the most gruesome manner. The detective in charge, the introvert, humourless but sharp inspector Matthäi, promises the parents to hunt down the killer. A local peddler immediately falls under suspicion; apart from much of the evidence pointing to him, he’s an outsider and a convenient scapegoat. A lynch atmosphere develops and the peddler confesses. But Matthäi is far from convinced that he has found the killer and embarks on a destructive, Machiavellian path to unearth the truth.
The Pledge is a study of obsession, of the fine balance between commitment and madness, between stamina and lunacy. Set in a gloomy, hostile place (no charming Swiss mountain hamlets here!), even the sunshine takes on disturbing qualities. The hot, sticky temperature and the shifting weather from blinding sunshine to relentless rain add to the claustrophobia. A crime novel as much as a portrait of a personal demise, I found this short read captivating.
The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is published by Pushkin Vertigo and translated by Joel Agee, 155 pages.