Monday, September 5, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass - Germany

Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles! The train is pulling into Germany this week on our grand tour of Europe as depicted in crime fiction through the ages.

Decades ago, in my teen years, I traveled to the Rhineland area and Bavaria for three weeks. Germany will always bring back memories of peppermint tea, reckless driving, my first visit to a farm of any kind (pigs, cherries, apples and bees), my first taste of unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk that sent me running to the bathroom, a visit to a German movie theater for Krieg der Sterne (the German dubbed version of Star Wars), and lots of drunk teenagers in Munich (that would be us Americans behaving badly).

But when I think of Germany in terms of crime fiction I think of two things immediately - spies and Nazis. Sorry, Germany, but you just can't escape your past as far as thriller fiction goes. Travel with me into the cobweb enshrouded section of the Pretty Sinister Books' vault while I drag out a few dusty and forgotten tomes that capture Germany in fictionalized terms from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Francis Beeding was the pseudonym created by British writers Hilary St. George Saunders and John Palmer. Palmer was a drama critic and Saunders was an ex-military man. They met while at the League of Nations. Naturally, when they decided to collaborate as novelists they wrote about wartime and espionage. Their main contribution to crime fiction was Colonel Alistair Granby, of the British Intelligence Service who was primarily involved in battling wicked German spies all over Europe. His adventures in Germany included The Secret Weapon (1940). The other 16 books were set in Geneva, Italy and France but with quite a cast of double agents and duplicitous characters in disguise who would almost always turn out to be German spies.  They also created German master criminal Professor Kreutzmark who first appeared in The Seven Sleepers (1925), also Beeding's first novel. It's a roller coaster ride of a thriller, heavily populated with vivid characters, action galore and a plot similar to the pursuit adventure novels of John Buchan.

Dennis Wheatley loved to write about Nazis and Satanism. His genre blending thrillers incorporated spybashers and ghostbusters. The books could convince you that Adolf Hitler had no part in the nefarious work of the Nazis and that they were actually in service to the Devil himself. They Used Dark Forces (1964) although written in the 60s was set in 1943 and featured Gregory Sallust, a sadistic British spy, who does battle with Ibrahim Malacou -- hypnotist, astrologer and Satanist. They form an unlikely partnership in the war against Nazi Germany. Two earlier books with Sallust as the series protagonist were also set in Germany -- Faked Passports (1940) and The Scarlet Impostor (1940) -- but were more mainstream espionage thrillers lacking any of Wheatley's usual fascination with the occult.

Finally, Sax Rohmer wrote another of his over-the-top thrillers with supernatural overtones but which turns out to be more science fiction/fantasy about a criminal mastermind who sets up shop in the Black Forest and uses the superstitions of Eastern Europe to his advantage. In The Day the World Ended (1929) Brian Woodville discovers an army of bat-like creatures thought to be vampires terrorizing the citizens of a village outside of Baden Baden in the Black Forest. Here is his first encounter with one of the creatures:
Descending with hawklike motion was a gigantic bat! It had a sort of vague luminosity. The incredibly long body as well as the extended wings were of a gleaming purplish-gray colour: I can only liken it to that of a meat fly or common bluebottle. The wing span, I was prepared to swear, was no less than four yards; the legless body of the thing, which, as it descended, resembled less a bat than a monstrous dragonfly, was close upon six feet! [...]
"Merciful heaven!" I whispered. "What does it all mean?"

Woodville will eventually team up with series character Gaston Max and together along with some other do-gooders will discover a criminal organization headed by yet another of Rohmer's mad scientist/evil geniuses with world domination on his mind. The bat-like creatures thought to be vampires turn out to be something altogether far worse and bizarre as only Sax Rohmer could dream up.

For more sampling of thrillers, mysteries and crime fiction set in Germany (with and without Nazis) please visit Mysteries in Paradise, our host site for this tour of spy-ridden, criminal Europe.  Beer and schnitzel will be served in the dining car promptly at seven.


  1. I love the covers John. I have read some Wheatley over the years but never any Beeding. Thanks for the summaries

  2. I don't, generally associate Nazism with Satanism, but to each his own. The Nazis, to my mind, were heads and tails (!) above any other devil invented by man.

    But I love stories in which the the good guys tackle the Nazis and win.

    LOVED these covers, John, as usual.
    Enjoyed reading about another author I'd never heard of.

    I do wish you'd take a chance and read my two Marshall Browne novels that take place in Nazi Germany in 1939. I just know you'd love them.
    No Satanism involved. :)

  3. Speaking of Nazis, THE DEBT was pretty good if you are in the mood for a movie.

  4. John: Thanks for reminding me of the Dennis Wheatley novels. I enjoyed several of them what I realize is over a generation ago.