The Pledge

The Pledge



The Pequod Review:

Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge is the story of Swiss police inspector Matthai, whose “pledge” to the mother of a murder victim leads him into a long and obsessive investigation that ultimately threatens his sanity. The book is narrated by a former colleague of Matthai's (Dr. H), who tells his story to a detective novelist. Dr. H was driven to tell the story after being frustrated with the unrealistic nature of the author’s crime novels:

What really bothers me about your novels is the storyline, the plot. There the lying just takes over, it’s shameless. You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: here’s the criminal, there’s the victim, here’s an accomplice, there’s a beneficiary. And 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. You can’t come to grips with reality by logic alone. Granted, we police are forced to proceed logically, scientifically; but there is so much interference, so many factors mess up our schemes that success very often amounts to no more than professional luck and pure chance working in our favor…. But you fellows in the writing game don’t care about that. You don’t try to grapple with a reality that keeps eluding us, you just set up a manageable world. That world may be perfect, but it’s a lie.

Durrenmatt’s prose is unremarkable, but the book's inventiveness and its upending of traditional crime novel structures make The Pledge a rewarding read. (The book was made into a very good 2001 film by Sean Penn.)