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.
About the Author
Friedrich Dürrenmatt(1921–1990) was born in the village of Konolfingen, near Berne, Switzerland. He wrote prolifically during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, taking particular interest in human rights and the preservation of Israel. He is the author of numerous books published by the University of Chicago Press, including The Pledge.
Joel Agee has translated numerous German authors into English, including Heinrich von Kleist, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Elias Canetti. In 2005 he received the Modern Language Association’s Lois Roth Award for his translation of Hans Erich Nossack’s The End: Hamburg 1943.
"Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was best known as the author of clever, morally inquisitive plays such as 'The Visit' and 'The Physicists.' In the early 1950s he also wrote three short, spellbinding mystery novels, which the University of Chicago Press has reissued in paperback with new translations from the German by Joel Agee: The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries:The Judge and His Hangman &Suspicion. The latter includes a thoughtful foreword by Sven Birkerts, who praises Dürrenmatt's talent as a captivating entertainer who could also 'play through complex moral issues with a speed-chess decisiveness and inexorability.' . . . These are slender tales. But they have the weight and texture of classics. Mystery readers should be grateful to the University of Chicago Press for bringing these gems back to life." — Richard Lipez
"The Swiss essayist Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-90) was a prolific writer of detective novels with a low regard for detective fiction. 'You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: all the detective needs to know is the rules, he replays the moves of the game, and checkmate, the criminal is caught and justice has triumphed. This fantasy drives me crazy.' Dürrenmatt's tale doesn't so much alter the rules as sweep all the figures to the floor. Three young girls, each with blond braids and red dresses, are found dismembered in the woods. A pattern seems to emerge, yet the attempt to catch the killer develops into a fruitless obsession which drives the head of the investigation insane. Dürrenmatt incorporates fairy-tale archetypes to distort the typical conventions of a psychological thriller—when little girls in red dresses skip off into the woods, should the investigation team focus their enquiries on a big, bad wolf? Not a book for anyone who likes a tidy conclusion, but as Dürrenmatt says: 'The only way to avoid getting crushed by absurdity, is to humbly include the absurd in our calculations.'"
— The Guardian
"A stark essay in crime and pursuit, as terse and assured in construction as the best of Simenon. — John Coleman
"An unusual and arresting novel of crime and detection. Mr. Dürrenmatt is an accomplished and dramatic storyteller, and he has tucked into his short narrative some tantalizing moral questions." — Charles Rolo