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The Chinaman ()

And Sergeant Studer of the Bern Cantonal Police sighed despondently several times as he walked. He didn’t have an easy life, he thought.

That morning the deputy governor had phoned police headquarters from Roggwil. The body of a certain Farny, he said, had been found in the cemetery of the village of Pfründisberg. For the last nine months this Farny had been living in the Sun Inn, and it was Brönnimann, the landlord, who had found the body and informed the village policeman. Merz, the policeman, had reported that the cause of death was a shot to the heart.

“So far I have not been able to put an investigation in train, but it looks suspicious to me. The doctor maintains it’s a case of suicide. I do not agree! To be on the safe side, I feel it is important to have an experienced detective present. The cemetery’s opposite the inn . . .”

“I know that,” Studer had broken in as an unpleasant shiver ran down his spine. A July night had come to mind on which a stranger had foretold this murder . . .

“Oh, you know that, do you? Who is that on the line?”

“Sergeant Studer. The chief superintendent’s busy.”

“Ah, Studer! Good. Excellent. Come at once! I’ll be waiting for you at the cemetery.”

Studer gave another sigh, shrugged his powerful shoulders, scratched his thin, pointed nose and cursed silently. It would be just the same as always, of course. He wasn’t a celebrated criminologist, although in earlier years he had studied a lot. An intrigue had cost him his position as chief inspector with the Bern City Police; he’d had to start from the bottom again with the cantonal force and had quickly risen to the rank of sergeant. Yet, although he’d been demoted, although he had enemies, he was always the one who was sent when there was a difficult case. This time too. After the telephone conversation Studer had reported to the superintendent and mentioned what had happened that July night. “Off you go, then, Studer. But don’t come back until you’re sure, until the case’s solved. Right?”

“If I must . . . Cheerio.” Studer had got on his bike and set off. The July night had been exactly four months ago, the night when he had met the stranger with the Swiss name of Farny. A stranger who was now dead . . .
How's that for establishing a character and plot in short order? Sergeant Jakob Studer is known as Switzerland's Maigret, but there are tragically only five books in the series, instead of Simenon's hundreds, because Friedrich Glauser was a schizophrenic morphine addict who began his series while confined to an asylum and died when he was 42, just before he was to marry. In his short life he also spent time in the French Foreign Legion, psychiatric wards and even prison.

We don't get to see much of Studer's wife in this entry, because he is sent to this village to investigate the crime, though she apparently does feature in others, like Madame Maigret. But Studer has a healthy proportion of Maigret's patience with those on the lower rungs of society who he is brought in contact with on the case. The Switzerland of the 30s is sufficiently opaque to an American of the 2020s that it's hard to figure out some of the lines of authority and why people feel so comfortable behaving with contempt towards a detective. The text would not suffer from some explanatory footnotes. The translator, Mike Mitchell, has described the challenges he faced just rendering the various Swiss/German vernaculars Glauser utilized.

Bitter Lemon Press deserves praise for reviving Glauser who was largely forgotten in the Anglosphere, though the top prize for mysteries written in German bears his name. And Mr. Mitchell for producing a version that seems true to the original, giving us a delightfully idiosyncratic hero whose crime-solving almost coincidentally affords a critique of a society rapidly headed into WWII.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Friedrich Glauser Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Friedrich Glauser
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Friedrich Glauser (IMDB)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Friedrich Glauser (Bitter Lemon Press)
    -BOOK PAGE: The Chinaman (Bitter Lemon Press)
    -EXCERPT: from The Chinaman (Bitter Lemon Press)
    -ETEXT: The Chinaman (PDF)
    -EXCERPT: from Fever by Friedrich Glauser, Translated from German by Mike Mitchell (Words without Borders)
    -The Friedrich Glauser Prize: The Friedrich Glauser Prize (Friedrich-Glauser-Preis, sometimes Friedrich-Glauser-Krimipreis) honors the best crime novel written in German. (Crime Fiction Awards)
    -ENTRY: Glauser, Friedrich (Gadetecteion)
    -ENTRY: Friedrich Glauser (Stop, You're killing Me)
    -ENTRY: Friedrich Glauser (Euro Crime)
    -ENTRY: Biography of Friedrich Glauser (1896-1938) (The Biography)
-FIND A GRAVE: Friedrich Glauser
    -INTERVIEW: Mike Mitchell, part I: An interview with Friedrich Glauser's translator (DETECTIVES BEYOND BORDERS, MARCH 24, 2008)
What particularly attracts me about Glauser’s crime novels is the way his detective — Sergeant Studer — understands and sympathises with the disadvantaged, even if his job means he has to continue to investigate them. There is a profound sense of humanity permeating Glauser’s writing, which at the same time throws a keen light on social conditions in Switzerland in the 1930s, but coming across as a concern for individuals rather than as a political message.

You’ve discussed Glauser’s handling of dialect. I’d like you to talk about his use of, say, Bern dialect vs. standard spoken or written German and about the challenges this posed for you as a translator. Were there any passages that were simply untranslatable?

Not untranslatable in the sense of finding it impossible to convey the meaning, but it was very difficult to follow the way the main character switches from local dialect to standard ‘educated’ Swiss to very formal German. Fortunately Glauser himself comments on this at times, so I felt justified in occasionally adding a rider of my own of the type: ‘ ‘’Xxxxx”, said Studer, reverting to his Bernese dialect’, where, say, a remark by Studer in thick dialect is reported without comment.

    -ESSAY: Diverse German criminality: A collection of essays investigating German crime fiction (P. D. Smith, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of The Chinaman by Friedrich Glauser (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Chinaman (Karen Meek, Euro Crime)
    -REVIEW: of The Chinaman (Maureen Corrigan, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Chinaman (Mostly Fiction Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Sharon Wheeler, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Salonica world lit)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Baso Profundo)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Jenny, Shelf Love)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Moody Sleuth)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Rosemary Herbert, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of In Matto's Realm (Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Fever by Friedrich Glauser (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Fever (Karen Meek, Euro Crime)
    -REVIEW: of Fever (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser (Sarah Dudley, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (Karen Chisolm, AustCrimeFiction
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (Barry, Blogging for a Good Book)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (1st Reading)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (PATRICK LENNON, Rap Sheet)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (Harry S. Chou, Large Print Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (Susanna Yager, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (View from the Blue House)
    -REVIEW: of Thumbprint (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Three Old Ladies’ Tea by Friedrich Glauser (Ben Beach, GLLI)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke by Friedrich Glauser ('Do You Write Under Your Own Name?': Martin Edwards' Crime Writing Blog)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke (Nina Sankovitch, Medium)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke (Swiftly Tilting Planet)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke (Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of The Spoke (Cathi Unsworth, The Guardian)

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