Deutsche Krimis und andere Bücher
German Mysteries and Other Books in German
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German mystery writers (Krimiautoren/Krimiautorinnen) are something of a mystery themselves. German authors who write Krimis (short for Kriminalroman, crime/detective novel or mystery) are generally less well known than American or British writers such as John Grisham, Agathe Christie, Raymond Chandler or Edgar Wallace, whose works are widely read in German translation. The publisher of the hugely popular German Jerry Cotton mystery series even kept the German author's name top-secret for decades.
Not that German literature lacks native mystery writers. The Swiss Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote two well-known German mysteries, Der Richter und sein Henker and Der Verdacht, with the Swiss Detektiv Kommissär Bärlach as the main character. (Dürrenmatt's Der Verdacht was the basis for the recent Hollywood film The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson.) E.T.A. Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1820) is a 19th century example. Other classic German Krimiautoren include Arnau, Hey, Martin, Radtke and Rodrian. Today there are even regional German writers who set their mysteries in a specific area, such as Jacques Berndorf's Eifel series (Eifel-Blues, Eifel-Feuer, Eifel-Schnee, etc.). There is also the very popular TKKG series for young readers. But contemporary German readers still gravitate primarily to the many translations of mystery/thrillers by American, British and other foreign writers of Krimis.
Akif Pirinçci's popular "cat mysteries" have been a big hit in Germany. See Akif Pirinçci und seine Katzenkrimis.
So it came as something of a surprise when I learned of Das Syndikat, an association of some 300 German mystery writers with its own Web site and an annual conference dubbed the Criminale (a take-off on the name of the German film awards, the Berlinale). While German literary critics generally tend to dismiss most Krimis as U-Literatur (i.e., low-grade entertainment literature), the genre is still very popular in Germany and there are many German authors in that genre.
The Jerry Cotton Jubiläum books
are collections of three stories each.
But the most successful German (and international) mystery series of all time had an American lead character and no acknowleged author! Die Jerry Cotton-Serie has been published in 19 languages in more than 50 countries and has sold over 750 million copies worldwide. However, the German publisher of the popular stories featuring the New York FBI agent Jerry Cotton refused for over 40 years to reveal the name of the German author (or authors). In fact since 1954 more than 65 anonymous writers have contributed to the series. It was not until 1998 that the German newspaper Die Welt revealed the name of the series' creator. Delfried Kaufmann, an employee of a German detergent manufacturer, wrote the first Jerry Cotton G-Man novel in 1954. After the first several books, Kaufmann tired of his creation and the Bastei-Lübbe publishing house, not wanting to lose its best-selling series, engaged a series of authors over the years, all just as unknown as Jerry Cotton's creator, although some wrote other books under their own pen name.
The Jerry Cotton books were in fact so popular that several modestly successful low-budget Jerry Cotton movies were released in Germany in the 1960s. The first film, Schüße aus dem Geigenkasten (Shots from the Violin Case, 1965), and several sequels filmed up to 1968 starred an American actor (George Nader), but all six pictures in the series were filmed in Germany using mostly German actors with various lame tricks to make Germany look like New York City. All but two of the films were actually based on Jerry Cotton novels.
Another indication of the popularity of the mystery/crime genre in Germany is the number of TV series featuring mysteries. Besides home-grown series like Aktenzeichen ZY... ungelöst (this model for America's Most Wanted first aired in 1967), Derrick or Tatort, the US Columbo series made Peter Falk as big a star in Germany as he was in the US. (See the Krimi-Links page for more about German TV detective series.)
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