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The Pledge [Paperback]

Friedrich Durrenmatt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Price: £12.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

10 Oct 2006
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.

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The Pledge + The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: "The Judge and His Hangman" and "Suspicion" + The Pledge [2001] [DVD]
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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (10 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226174379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226174372
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"An unusual and arresting novel of crime and detection. Mr. Durrenmatt is an accomplished and dramatic storyteller, and he has tucked into his short narrative some tantalizing moral questions."--Charles Rolo"Atlantic Monthly" (04/10/1959)

About the Author

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990) was a prolific Swiss dramatist, novelist, and essayist. His Selected Writings, in three volumes, is also published by the University of Chicago Press. Joel Agee has translated numerous German authors into English. Sven Birkerts is the author of six books, including The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time.  He is editor of the journal AGNI and teaches writing at Harvard University.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Requiem for the Detective Novel 15 May 2007
The original 1958 edition of this novella was subtitled "A Requiem for the Detective Novel" -- a nugget of context unfortunately missing from this attractive new edition. This absent subtitle is rather important, because it very clearly identifies the taut little tale as one that challenges the traditional arc (crime, investigation, solution) of detective fiction. While the story does follow this arc, the "solution" subverts the qualities of reason, logic, heroism, and determination that are so often extolled in crime fiction -- and by doing so it acts as a critique of the modern era.

The plot is very simple, a little girl is found murdered in some woods on the outskirts of a small Swiss town. A master police detective on his last week of work before leaving on a plumb foreign contract takes the case, and, per the title, promises the mother of the slain girl that her daughter's killer will be brought to justice. A suspect is brought in and confesses, but the detective isn't satisfied, and pursues his pledge to the edge of madness.

The framework for the story is a little clunky, as it's related by the detective's former boss to an anonymous mystery writer. Some of the details also aren't crystal clear, for example, the murder is referred to as a "sex" crime, but it's also clearly established that there was no sexual element. However, these are minor points that should not obscure the power of the novella's grip, which, as others have pointed out, has echoes of Camus.

Note: The book has been adapted for film and television no less than six times! In reverse order, The Pledge (2001, USA) , Es Geschah am Hellichten Tag (1997, Germany), The Cold Light of Day (1996, UK/Netherlands) , Posledneye delo komissara Berlakha (1988, USSR) , La Promessa (1979, Italy) , Es Geschah am Hellichten Tag (1958, Germany).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Feanor
Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Pledge is a tale of the fall of a brilliant Swiss detective. The denouement is somewhat pat, but the analysis of the detective's psyche is very good. A little girl is savagely murdered and the detective makes a promise to her mother that he will find the killer. When a suspect is arrested and he subsequently commits suicide, everybody is satisfied that the case is closed, even the victim's parents. But the detective is not convinced, and against all evidence and in the face of his superiors' disapproval, he lays an intricate trap to catch the killer. He is so obsessed with this plan that he doesn't mind sacrificing everything he has - his reputation, his relationships, even his 'adopted' family - to fulfil his pledge. The plan fails and he loses his mind, and when the explanation arrives (a bit contrived), it is far too late to save the detective. This is a small book, a quick but agonising read, and well worth for its insight into the extremes of human nature.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing look at crime writing styles 3 Oct 2009
By Officer Dibble VINE VOICE
A child is horrifically murdered in the Swiss Canton of Zurich and the investigating officer promises his 'soul' to the grieving mother that he will catch the killer; he gives her his 'pledge'.

The officer is Matthai regarded as a genius by his boss the Chief of Police who is now the narrator of this tale from his position in retirement. The Chief recounts the devastating impact on Matthai's life as the struggle to fulfill this pledge overwhelms him. That is the simple story and it is told in a simple style. The book is shortish, reportage and often chapters are little more than a few paragraphs long.

In fact, Durrenmatt is really making a literary point about crime writing rather than this being a great crime novel in its own right. The Chief believes that crime writers rely totally on 'plot' and 'logic alone' whereas real police work relies on 'professional luck and pure chance'. His (Chief/Durrenmatt) story of the pledge is designed to undermine certain writers, Poe inter alia, who seem to argue 'mathematical formulae' can solve real criminal events.

This latter point is given piquancy by the fact that the Chief is narrating this story to the reader via a crime novelist he has bumped into at a conference. The writer having just given a lecture to the public on the art of crime writing. Very clever,eh? An unusual, dark read.
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