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Set in a small town in Switzerland, The Pledge centers around the murder of a young girl and the detective who promises the victim’s mother he will find the perpetrator. After deciding the wrong man has been arrested for the crime, the detective lays a trap for the real killer—with all the patience of a master fisherman. But cruel turns of plot conspire to make him pay dearly for his pledge. Here Friedrich Dürrenmatt conveys his brilliant ear for dialogue and a devastating sense of timing and suspense. Joel ...
Set in a small town in Switzerland, The Pledge centers around the murder of a young girl and the detective who promises the victim’s mother he will find the perpetrator. After deciding the wrong man has been arrested for the crime, the detective lays a trap for the real killer—with all the patience of a master fisherman. But cruel turns of plot conspire to make him pay dearly for his pledge. Here Friedrich Dürrenmatt conveys his brilliant ear for dialogue and a devastating sense of timing and suspense. Joel Agee’s skilled translation effectively captures the various voices in the original, as well as its chilling conclusion.
One of Dürrenmatt’s most diabolically imagined and constructed novels, The Pledge was adapted for the screen in 2000 in a film directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson.
— Richard Lipez
— John Coleman
We set out the next morning. At dawn, I had taken two Medomins to catch a little sleep, and now I felt virtually paralyzed. The day seemed still dark, though the sun had risen a while ago. There was a patch of metallic sky gleaming somewhere through a covering of dense, sluggishly lumbering, snow-filled clouds. Winter seemed unwilling to leave this part of the country. The city was surrounded by mountains, but there was nothing majestic about them; they rather resembled heaps of earth, as though someone had dug an immense grave. Chur itself was quite evidently made of stone, gray, with large government buildings. It seemed incredible to me that this was a wine-growing region. We tried to penetrate into the old inner city, but the heavy car strayed into a network of narrow lanes and one-way streets, and only a complex maneuver in reverse gear got us out of the tangle of houses. Moreover, the streets were icy, so we were glad to have the city behind us at last, although I had seen almost nothing of this old episcopal residence. It was like a flight. I dozed, feeling leaden and weary; vaguely, through the low scuttling clouds, I saw a snow-covered valley gliding past us, rigid with cold. I don't know for how long. Then we were driving toward a large village, perhaps a small town, carefully, and suddenly everything was illuminated by sunlight so powerful and blinding that the snowy planes began to melt. A white ground mist rose, spreading imperceptibly over the snowfields until, once again, the valley was hidden from my sight. It was like a bad dream, like an evil spell, as if I was not supposed to experience these mountains. My weariness came back. The gravel with which the road had been strewn clattered unpleasantly; driving over a bridge, we went into a slight skid; then we passed a military transport; the windshield became so dirty that the wipers could no longer clean it. H. sat sullenly next to me at the wheel, absorbed in his own thoughts, concentrating on the difficult road. I regretted having accepted his invitation, cursed the whiskey and my sleeping pills. But gradually, things improved. The valley became visible again, and more human, too. There were farms everywhere, and occasionally a small factory, everything spare and clean, the road free of snow and ice now, glistening with wetness, but safe enough for us to accelerate to a decent speed. The mountains no longer hemmed us in from all sides but had opened out, and then we stopped next to a gas station.
The house immediately struck me as peculiar, perhaps because it stood out from its neat and proper surroundings. It was a wretched-looking thing with streams of water flowing down its sides. Half of it was made of stone, the other half was a wooden shed whose front wall was covered with posters. Evidently this had been its use for a long time, for there were whole layers of posters pasted one over the other: Burrus Tobacco for Modern Pipes, Drink Canada Dry, Sport Mints, Vitamins, Lindt's Milk Chocolate, and so on. On the side wall, in giant letters: Pirelli Tires. The two gas pumps stood on an uneven, badly paved square in front of the house; everything made a run-down impression, despite the sun, which was now exuding a stinging heat that seemed almost malevolent.
"Let's get out," said the former chief of police, and I obeyed without understanding what he had in mind, but glad to step into the fresh air.
Next to the open door sat an old man on a stone bench. He was unshaven and unwashed, wore a pale smock that was smeared and stained, and dark, grease-spotted trousers that had once been part of a tuxedo. Old slippers on his feet. His eyes were staring, stupefied, and I could smell the liquor from afar. Absinthe. The pavement around the stone bench was littered with cigarette butts that were floating in puddles of melted snow.
"Hello," said the police chief, and he suddenly sounded embarrassed. "Full up, please. Super. And clean the windshields." Then he turned to me. "Let's go in."
Only now did I notice a tavern sign over the only visible window, a red metal disk. And over the door was the name of the place: Zur Rose. We stepped into a dirty corridor. The stench of beer and schnapps. The chief walked ahead of me. He opened a wooden door; evidently he had been here before. The barroom was dark and dingy, a couple of rough-hewn tables and benches, the walls papered with cutout pictures of movie stars; the Austrian radio was giving a market report for the Tyrol, and behind the counter, barely discernible, stood a haggard woman in a dressing gown, smoking a cigarette and washing glasses.
"Two coffees with cream," said the chief.
The woman went about preparing the coffee. From the adjoining room came a sloppy-looking waitress who looked about thirty years old to me.
"She's sixteen," the chief muttered.
The girl served us our coffees. She was wearing a black skirt and a white, half-open blouse, with nothing underneath; her skin was unwashed. She was blond, as the woman behind the counter must once have been, and her hair was uncombed.
"Thank you, Annemarie," the chief said, and laid the money on the table. The girl, too, did not reply, did not even thank him. We drank in silence. The coffee was awful. The chief lit himself a Bahianos. The Austrian radio was now discussing the water level and the girl shuffled off to the room next door, where we saw something whitish shimmering, probably an unmade bed.
"Let's go," said the chief.
Outside, after a glance at the pump, he paid the old man for filling the tank and cleaning the windshields.
"Next time," the chief said by way of farewell, and again I noticed his helpless air; but the old man still didn't reply; he was back on his bench, staring into space, stupefied, obliterated. When we had reached the Ope1 and turned around again, the old man was clenching his fists, shaking them, and whispering, pressing the words out in brief, forceful gasps, his face transfigured by an immense faith: "I'll wait, I'll wait, he'll come, he'll come."
"I'm sure you were surprised by a few things this morning. First of all, by my own talk; a former chief of the Zurich cantonal police should express more moderate views. But I am old and I've stopped lying to myself. I know very well what a dubious bunch we all are, how little we can accomplish, how easily we make mistakes; but I also know that we have to act anyway, even at the risk of acting wrongly.
"Then you must also have wondered why I stopped at that miserable gas station, and I'll confess it to you right away: that pathetic drunken wreck who filled up our tank used to be my most capable man. God knows I knew something about my profession, but Matthäi was a genius, and this to a degree that puts all your paper detectives to shame.
"The story happened almost nine years ago," H. continued after passing a Shell oil truck. "Matthäi was one of my inspectors, or rather, one of my first lieutenants-we use military ranks in the cantonal police. He was a lawyer, like me, a Baseler who had taken his doctorate in Basel, and among certain groups that made his acquaintance 'professionally,' his nickname was 'Dead-end Matthäi.' After a while we called him that, too. He was a lonely man, always neatly dressed, impersonal, formal, aloof; he didn't smoke, didn't drink, but on the job he was tough as nails, downright ruthless, and as hated as he was successful. I was never able to figure him out. I think I was the only person he liked-because I have a soft spot for clearheaded people, even though his lack of humor often got on my nerves. He was extremely bright, but the all too solid structures in our country had made him emotionless. He was what you'd call an organization man, and he used the police apparatus like a slide rule. He wasn't married, he never spoke of his private life-probably he didn't have one. The only thing he thought about was his job. He was a top-notch detective, but he worked without passion. He was stubborn, tireless, but when you watched him in action, he appeared to be bored; until one day he got embroiled in a case that suddenly stirred him to passion.
"He was at the pinnacle of his career at the time. There had been some difficulties with him in the department. I was going to be retired, and my most likely successor was Matthäi. But there were obstacles to his appointment that couldn't be ignored. Not only that he didn't belong to any party, but the rank and file would have objected. The cantonal government, on the other hand, was hesitant to pass over such a capable man. So when the government of Jordan asked the federal government to send an expert to Amman to reorganize their police, it was like a godsend: Matthäi was recommended by Zurich and accepted by Berne and Amman. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. He, too, was pleased, and not just for professional reasons. He was about fifty then-a little desert sun would do him good, he figured; he looked forward to the trip, to the flight across the Alps and the Mediterranean; probably he imagined this would be his final farewell from us, for he hinted that afterward he would move to Denmark to live with a widowed sister there-and he was just clearing out his desk in the cantonal police headquarters on Kasernenstrasse when the call came."
"Officer Riesen picked up the phone.
Excerpted from THE PLEDGE by Friedrich Dürrenmatt Copyright © 1986 by Diogenes Verlag AG, Zürich. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 25, 2001
A little child is found slaughtered in a Swiss canton. This crime has a sexual facet as another tree previous separated by several years. The inspector Mattei, the policeman in charge of the case is a very cool professional who has the fame of solve his cases as a scientist without any emotional implication but no doubt this time he falls deeply impressed and when he has to say the notice to the parents, the mother demands to him the promise to capture the murderer. But Mattei has just attained the age of retirement Swiss authorities have an employment for him as police adviser in Jordania and his flight is for the next day. He almost takes the airplane but amid this he looks many children going to schools and seems to develop an obsession to protect them so he rejects these work in Middle East and even his condition of official police inspector and begins to work as a particular in a gas service station because owing the localization of the murders he thinks the criminal lives not far. I think F. Durrenmatt is a pessimist writer although of high quality and this novel ins¿t for these readers that expects the usual full psysical action or a happy end but I think Mattei fulfils his pledge at a high and strange cost.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2010
No text was provided for this review.