The Unification of German Thrillers

Ann Brocklehurst
Originally published 22 January 1993, International Herald Tribune

– It was inevitable that the fall of the Berlin Wall would complicate the working lives of Germany’s fictional detectives. And as it turns out in the most recently published German crime novels, the end of the Cold War has not only given rise to new types of crime and drastically increased work loads, it has also played havoc with sleuths’ personal lives as well.

Take the case of police Superintendent Hans-Jurgen Mannhardt whose son joins a group of violent neo-Nazi skinheads in “Ein Deal Zuviel” (One Deal Too Many), the latest book by “-ky,” one of the few German mystery writers regularly translated into other European languages.

The author, Horst Bosetzky, a Berlin sociology professor who uses the “-ky” pen name, has made a habit of weaving topical social issues into his mysteries. And as his intellectual, left-leaning hero tries to control the skinheads and track down a serial killer, he finds time to mull over Berlin’s rising crime rate, anti-foreigner violence and the troubled relationship between East and West Germans.

But Mannhardt has less success figuring out how to resolve his personal dilemmas than he does solving crimes. By the end of the book, he has struck deals with the killers but failed to come to terms with his son.

Anna Marx, a Bonn gossip columnist with a propensity for stumbling across murders, is a German version of the liberated women detectives who have become so popular in recent years. But although Anna is a hard drinker with a high profile and good success rate, she is not a superwoman along the lines of the internationally best-selling women private investigators. She neither jogs nor beats up suspects, and she’s overweight.

In Christine Gran’s latest book “Grenzfalle” (Borderline Cases), Anna’s love life is the focal point as her politico boyfriend is confronted by past contacts with Stasi, the East German state security police. The case marks a turning point in their relationship, and while the Stasi questions are eventually answered, Anna’s romantic future with her boyfriend remains unclear.

“Gemischtes Doppel” (Mixed Double) is a mystery by two journalists, one from the East and one from the West. The protagonists are – what else? – an Eastern “Ossi” cop and a Western “Wessi” police detective who have been assigned to work together as a result of the merging of Berlin’s two police forces.

Although the writers, Michael Illner (East) and Leo P. Ard (West), have faced some criticism for perpetuating the stereotypes of the bemuddled, plodding Ossi and the arrogant know-it-all Wessi, their book has received generally good reviews.

The two policemen are a classic odd couple from the day of their first meeting when the Ossi, Gabler, parks his Toyota in the spot his new partner, Horstmuller, considers to be reserved for his BMW.

While tensions ease slightly as the two cops work together to find the murderer of a Russian Army officer’s wife and unravel an East-West financial swindle, Gabler is far from at ease when his partner makes his first friendly overture. Horstmuller lends the unstylish Ossi a prized cashmere jacket after Gabler’s own clothes are bloodied in a punch-up with a skinhead named Goring. But before Gabler can appreciate the fine English tailoring, he has bled over the new jacket and made matters even worse by trying to remove the stain himself. It seems that reconciliation will have to wait for the planned sequels.

“Pilotenspiel” (Pilot Game) by Tom Wittgen, the pseudonym for the veteran East German mystery writer Ingeburg Siebenstadt, is a classic whodunit set in a small town in Eastern Germany. It takes place shortly after Germany’s currency union and just before its official reunification. The suspects and victims are a group of East Germans foolishly investing their newly redeemed Deutsche marks in the “pilot game” of the title, a shaky pyramid scheme introduced into the town by two visiting Wessis.

Crime and criminals imported from the West were common plot devices in the mystery novels of the former German Democratic Republic, where, according to the official line, homegrown villains were almost impossible to find.

That tradition lives on to a certain extent, but many mystery writers of Eastern Germany are using their new-found literary freedom to exorcise the past. A new series of crime novels set in Leipzig deals with pollution, feminism and old party members. The publisher’s slogan is “Every major city has the crime it deserves” and Leipzig is billed, for better or for worse, as the Chicago of the East.