Tuesday 16 May 2017



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.

Short, gripping and a compelling read. I read and enjoyed this one back in March, a few months after watching the film starring Jack Nicholson. Usually, I can pick a favourite between a book and its adaptation on screen, but on this occasion I would say I liked both equally.

Our tale is narrated by a former colleague of our obsessed detective - Inspector Matthai. On his last day in the job, Matthai gets called out to a crime scene - a young girl has been murdered and left in a field. The man reporting the crime has a previous offence on his record concerning a juvenile, but not one so young as our victim.

As far as the locals are concerned and the policeman given charge of the case (not Matthai), he's guilty. There's a great scene when Matthai disarms the assembling mob eager to lynch the suspect. There's an event which enables the police to consider the case closed and which pacifies the locals, but Matthai isn't convinced and having pledged to the dead girl's mother that he will find the guilty party, his planned future takes on a different outlook.

A promise turns into an obsession.

This was my first time reading Durrenmatt's work and it was an enjoyable experience. The narration style of the book, worked well for me and there are some fantastic scenes within the book; in particular - the disarming of the mob and the discussion regarding breaking the news of the murder to the girl's parents as well as that event itself. Matthai's steadfastness and character leave a lasting impact.

Highly recommended and I'm looking forward to reading more from Durrenmatt soon. Most if not all of his work is being republished by Pushkin Vertigo. I did have a copy of this one in one of my tubs, but the arrival of the reissue from the publisher probably spurred me to read it a bit sooner.

The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion are coming next I believe. Friedrich Durrenmatt, a Swiss author died in 1990.

The film version differs to the book mainly in the setting. Sean Penn (director) and Jack Nicholson play out events in Nevada. I'd recommend both book and film to anyone.

4.5 from 5

Read in March, 2017
Published - 1958 (my edition - 2017)
Page count - 160
Source - review copy from publisher - Pushkin Vertigo
Format - new paperback


  1. This does sound excellent, Col. It sounds like Mattahi is a well-developed and nuanced character, and that always appeals to me.

    1. I think this is one of those books where our tastes overlap, I believe you would enjoy it Margot.

  2. Col - I have not seen the movie, but would like to try to the book. I've only read (and seen) the author’s play, THE VISIT.

    1. Elgin, I don't know if there are plans afoot to republish all his work including his plays, or just the novels/novellas. What I also liked about this and the others of his I have is the length. Back in the day, they knew how to get the job done in under 200 pages!I think you might enjoy this in either format.

  3. I'm always convinced I have read this book and seen the film, though I don't remember much about it. So agree with you about length - and that would make me much more likely to revisit it.

    1. 160 pages - what's that - an afternoon's reading for you? Get involved!

  4. I had always avoided this book and movie, but now I have a copy so I will give it a try. And I am glad that it is short, since it sounds very intense.

    1. I think you would enjoy both Tracy, I hope so!