Monday, December 1, 2008

Review of The Spoke

Bitter Lemon Press performs an invaluable service by making foreign language crime fiction available in English. They’ve opened the door for many worthy authors whose work would otherwise be unknown to a large audience of crime fiction readers. Bitter Lemon’s most fascinating find, by far, is Swiss author Friedrich Glauser, author of the Sergeant Studer novels.

Glauser, who wrote in German, was a junkie, a jail inmate, member of the foreign legion and a mental patient. He started writing novels in an asylum and was a prolific letter writer. Unfortunately, there is very little biographical information about him in English, which makes him something of an enigma. His novels, including the latest to be translated by Mike Mitchell, The Spoke (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008), are conventional detective stories up until the point that they’re not. Studer, who is laconic and rational, also depends on dreams to guide him and sees nothing strange about it. It is also true that it is seldom the dead who are the real victims.

As with The Chinaman, the real victims in The Spoke are the living. The novel finds the marriage of Studer’s daughter interrupted by the discovery of a murder at the hotel where the wedding party is staying. Complicating matters is the fact that Studer’s first love is married to the hotel’s consumptive owner. What at first appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder over a woman turns into something more complicated when Studer starts questioning the shady characters hanging around the hotel. Studer’s patient interrogations and his innate skepticism get him ever closer to the truth, and when he finally arrives the crimes surrounding the murders loom larger than the deaths.

Glauser is not to be missed. The Spoke is the final novel in his Sergeant Studer series, and also the last to be translated into English. Start with Thumbprint, the first in the series and go from there. Glauser is an author worth getting to know.

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