The Pledge (La Promesa) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

While browsing books with Mr.B&R last month we came across a Spanish translation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt ‘s The Pledge entitled La Promesa. The introduction and all the information surrounding the book described Dürrenmatt as a key writer for 20th century crime fiction fans. So, the lovely Mr.B&R bought me the book as soon as he could 🙂

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From GoodReads:

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.

I started reading this book not having any preconceived ideas. Actually, I have to admit I first thought it was a study on crime fiction and it turned out to be a classic crime fiction novel. Also, it was a funny coincidence that the narration starts with a crime fiction writer going to a conference in Switzerland!

Once I knew I was reading a novel, it was very easy to get into the story. Switzerland proves a surprising eerie setting for a crime: the action takes place in both autumn and winter, so the cold weather, the crispy leaves on the ground alerting you of a stranger and the early nights become characters in themselves. As much as a fan of wintery weather as I am, The Pledge made me uncomfortable. It was too humid, too dirty, too cold and all made perfect sense with the horrible crime and how the author approaches it.

The Pledge made a huge contrast with the type of crime fiction I am used to. It falls into the hard-boiled detective crime fiction. The detectives were men, the narrator was a man and there were no women around except for a prostitute and the victim, a little girl. As you can imagine, I was not happy with this, but it added to how uncomfortable I felt reading.

So, The Pledge is a classic in crime fiction and Dürrenmatt is apparently a key writer of the genre. I had never heard of him, so I was really glad to discover him and his work. Most hard-boiled detectives belong to the American tradition, so it was very interesting to see all that smoking and whiskey-drinking set in Europe.

8 thoughts on “The Pledge (La Promesa) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

  1. I’m waiting for a copy of this to arrive at my local library. I’d heard great things about Durrenmatt, and also caught the Jack Nicholson film version on the TV last month. Really looking forward to getting stuck into it!

      1. It’s also not an easy watch! Very powerful, and Nicholson is very good, but if you’re expecting a happy ending you’ll be disappointed. Sounds like it’s very similar to the book – I’m looking forward to comparing them

  2. I’d not heard of this one, but it sounds interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard of the movie… Of course, I’ve yet to manage to get around to ANY hard-boiled detective fiction. So many choices, so little time!

    1. I know. I had only read Benjamin Black’s detective ficion and it is contemporary, so stricly speaking, I do not know of any other apart from the one in this novel.

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