Crime Thrillers and Water
Benvenuti: Big Deal.
Thriller. Haymon Verlag 2007, 346 S.
François Darnaudet: Les
ports ont tous la même eau ((All ports share the
same water). Mare nostrum
Polar 2007. 271 S.
Schorlau: Fremde Wasser. Denglers
dritter Fall (Foreign
Waters. Dengler's Third Case). Kiepenheuer & Witsch
2006. 271 S.
||Raul Zelik: Der
bewaffnete Freund (The
Armed Friend. A Novel). Novel. Blumenbar Verlag 2007.
In this age of globalisation water
continues to connect places, just as it always did, but by the
same token it can also represent boundaries, and become the object
of confrontations. This precious substance is destined to be a
topic for crime thrillers, even if Darnaudet maintains that, at
the end of the day, all ports share the same water. His novel plays
out between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, between Bordeaux
and Perpignan , between Andernos and Port-Vendres, between Collioure
and Arcachon. The story, relating the concept that Les
ports ont tous la même eau, follows
two young men, Marsal and Francis, and takes in two seas, but in
the end these two stories become one. A committed exponent of the
French ‘roman noir', Darnaudet takes a present-day murder, but lends
to it a historical and political dimension. The victim, Charly, is
the illegitimate son of Karl, a German soldier, and Martine, daughter
of a French oyster merchant, who had met in 1943, when France was
occupied by Nazi Germany. Their love affair had no future, of course.
Karl was injured on the eastern front, handed over to the Red Army
and became a distinguished chemist in the GDR. The attempt to solve
the murder of Martine and Karl's son turns into an investigation
stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, which ends up
on the trail of children born in France to German soldiers. Although
200,000 children were born as a result of relationships between women
from Nazi-occupied countries and German soldiers, the subject has
scarcely been discussed publicly, until now: yet another reason to
make it the topic of a crime novel. Darnaudet contrasts the humiliating
treatment of women who either allegedly or unquestionably had relationships
with Germans, with the generosity granted to collaborators following
liberation, who frequently carved out successful careers in postwar
France : “On the whole she recognised none of the FFI or FTPs [resistance
fighters] from the village, only those who had kowtowed. She could
still remember Boggio singing ‘Maréchal, nous voilà!'
in 1940 or 1941.“ (p. 176)
Darnaudet relates the stories of Marsal and
Francis who, after personal and political trials in extraordinary
circumstances, demonstrate the strength of the individual, solve
Charly's murder, commit murder themselves and, in their behaviour
and actions, lend consistency to Darnaudet's somewhat disparate plot.
The more successful Darnaudet's novel finally is, the less believable
Raul Zelik's first person narrator, who sends his armed friend, who
is being pursued by the police, on an expedition along the Catalonian
Mediterranean coast, not far from Darnaudet's scenario. Der
bewaffnete Freund (The Armed Friend), Zubieta, the real hero
of the book, is, like Marsal and Francis, a chap from another age,
representing a movement from the past, the ETA: “Without our violence,
there would be only their violence. And that means: even less justice”.
(p. 172) Zelik's portrayal, as critical as it is temperate, explains
how this once socialist, but now long since only nationalist, movement
considers the overthrow of the Spanish state to be its legitimate
aim. Zelik depicts the history of ETA following Franco's death, the
continuation of the Francoist police and their torture methods, and
the murders by the right-wing Grupos Antiterrostas de Liberación in
French towns of the Southwest. Spain 's European transition, its
political amnesia and its policy on terrorism are depicted incisively,
and it becomes clear how evil resides in Europe too. Zubieta's story
carries the plot and makes the German friend, who risks his scientific
career but not his sedateness, seem even more colourless.
Fremde Wasser (Foreign
Wolfgang Schorlau, demonstrates that success is possible too. This
novel comes recommended as a ‘book
to film' to anyone who has seen the film Der große
Great Sellout) about the privatisation of public ownership
and its consequences. Schorlau forgoes classical crime riddles, just
as the French ‘roman noir' has been doing ever since the seventies.
Even if he incorporates his serial characters, the former Federal
cop Dengler and his lover Olga, as a measure of security, he delivers
tough Agitprop action that verges on the black side. From the starting-point
of the murder of a female backbencher from the CDU party, the privatisation
of (life-essential) water is depicted in such a way that no one can
continue to maintain he knew nothing about it. The illusion, too,
to which Zelik's first-person narrator initially succumbs, namely
that political self-realisation might be achieved by hard work, is
dismantled by Schorlau using the example of the former left-wing
radical Crommschröder, now head of VED, an international water
company. The firm privatises waterworks domestically and in Jersey
: “Because the large operations have the financial clout to force
the smaller firms into bankruptcy over a certain time period, by
lowering prices. When this has been achieved, and they have swallowed
up the small companies, they raise the prices, just as they wish,
more or less as we are experiencing right now with the electricity
and gas prices.”(p. 229). Woven into the fiction is the true story
of the people of Cochabamba in Bolivia , who managed to set back
the privatisation of water by means of mass demonstrations, barricades,
strikes and militancy, and who in Schorlau's story bring about the
unmasking of Crommschröder's character. Anyone who wants to
understand what happens when society is robbed of its property, and
perhaps even wants to fight it, should read Fremde Wasser.
Judgement as to whether Jürgen Benvenuti's “Thriller” Big
Deal only comes across so blandly because he does not deal
or engage with the theme of water must be left to his readers.
That Benvenuti belongs to a different generation than Darnaudet
and Schorlau becomes apparent primarily from the restricted worlds
his characters inhabit. The tough informer Natascha signs up with
the police because of all-too familiar problems, whilst David Schrot
is striving to become a writer. For both of them, self-fulfilment
lies in work. Unfortunately neither possesses an armed friend,
one who might bring them to the right path and to the water.