European crime fiction in the crosshair

Private Eye : No future in fiction?

Wolfgang Schorlau
Translation: Anne Foster


Stuttgart is one of the safest German cities yet has some very successful writers of detective fiction. When I was in the middle of writing ‘Die Blaue Liste” I said to one of them ‘My main character is called George Dengler and he's a private detective in Stuttgart. My book is about…' ‘Stop Wolfgang,' he said. ‘A private detective?' ‘Yes,' I said, ‘He's called George Dengler, he's a private detective who lives in Stuttgart and he…' ‘Forget it', he said. ‘We don't have private detectives in Germany .' I was a bit taken aback as I'd already written half the book. ‘Just think about detective series on TV,' he said. ‘There are policemen and policewomen everywhere you look. Seeking the truth is an official duty in Germany which can only be carried out by public servants.' When he saw my horrified expression he added: ‘It has to do with the Germans' readiness to obey orders. We need people in authority. Private detectives just don't have a role in Germany .'

What a mess. I spent a sleepless night pondering the advice of my very experienced colleague. But, I said to myself, my half-finished manuscript at the forefront of my thoughts, Germans love reading stories from Philip Marlowe to Miss Marple and many other wonderful private detectives. And so I came to the brave decision to keep George Dengler a private detective, but just to be on the safe side I made him a former police officer, an investigator with the National Crime Squad. In for a penny, in for a pound!

So George Dengler remains one of the few private investigators in German detective fiction, which allows me, his creator, some advantages: George isn't confined to one ‘patch' or station or bound by police rules and regulations. The everyday life of the private detective who is his own boss reflects the social reality of the nation much better than if I had chosen as my main character a policeman looking forward to his pension.

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