My previous post on Friedrich Glauser’s Sergeant Studer was mostly dedicated to exploring traits that I feel Sergeant Studer shares with Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer, my assessment being based solely on my reading of In Matto’s Realm, the second book in Glauser’s Swiss detective series.
From comments about Sergeant Studer on the Bitter Lemon Press website (the series’ English language publisher), I’d been anticipating a ‘cranky, morally-incorruptible, irascible, fed-up, and impatient’ character, likely another moody sleuth for my list, but at this point I’m not thoroughly convinced that he qualifies.
Am I disappointed? Not really … it gives me a reason to track down the rest of the series so as to continue my ‘explorations’, and since In Matto’s Realm has been the most compelling read (so far) in my list for the 2014 Global Reading Challenge, I look forward to re-immersing myself in Sergeant Studer’s world sometime soon.
I concluded Part One of this ‘exploration’ knowing I had more to say about the man and the book; a couple of aspects of the man that I think are worthy of comment, one negative, and one I found intriguing.
As to the negative, it’s Sergeant Studer’s ‘active distaste for working women’, but I’m giving this short shrift since the attitude, however irksome I find it, was undoubtedly fairly normal for the time.
Sergeant Studer’s Idiosyncrasy
As to the ‘intriguing’, Sergeant Studer demonstrates an idiosyncrasy that might just be one of those quirks that writers endow their fictional detectives with in order to make them more interesting. It might also just be a way of imparting information about the various characters … or it might be an idiosyncrasy similar to Costas Haritos’ ‘dictionary addiction’, an idiosyncrasy which contributes to his sleuthing.
In any case, upon meeting other characters for the first time, Sergeant Studer quite often remarks on their manner of speech, their use of dialect and/or inflection. For example, upon meeting Dr. Laduner, chief psychiatrist at Randlingen Psychiatric Clinic and one of the main characters in the book, Studer notes:
“Anyway” seemed to be Dr. Laduner’s favourite word. And the way he spoke was odd, a mixture of eastern Swiss dialect and formal German that didn’t sound like authentic Swiss German at all.”
Of Frau Laduner he notes that she “spoke in a dialect of Bern”.
Schul, an inmate of the clinic “spoke in a rather stilted, formal German that had little of the Swiss dialect about it. In fact, it sounded more French …”
Perhaps readers of the text in original German would be expected to gain a clearer understanding of the characters based on how they speak, but I don’t have anyone handy to ask, so I honestly don’t know if this quirk is meaningful, or merely demonstrative of Studer’s powers of observation. I am interested to see if this skill is developed as the series progresses.
That’s about all I have to say about Sergeant Studer’s traits, but I do want to comment on a couple of other things which added to my enjoyment of In Matto’s Realm.
First is Friedrich Glauser’s minimal use of description when it comes to his main character. This pleases me.
Again, not having read the first novel in the series, I don’t know if Sergeant Studer has previously been described at length, and maybe I’m in a minority, but I’m thankful that Glauser doesn’t have his detective observing himself in the bathroom mirror on page one, or catching sight of himself in some darkened window … instead, he judiciously drops in snippets of description as the story progresses, allowing me to imagine the man as I will.
Early on we learn that Sergeant Studer finds shaving tedious since he has a heavy beard, and later, as he familiarizes himself with Randlingen Clinic, where the crimes occurred, he bends over a table:
Stooping like that, in his black suit, he looked like a giant Newfoundland dog following a scent.
In sum, we learn little more about Studer’s appearance than that he has a thin face and flat fingernails, that he smokes Brissago cigars and occasionally whistles, very artistically, mind you. That’s it.
The second thing? Glauser’s way of insinuating ‘curiosity piquing’ details into the narrative; details that seem to intimate that they’re more than just atmosphere.
In Matto’s Realm didn’t have me turning to a dictionary every other page, but several things made me pause and turn to Google; I recall looking up Swiss belt wrestling, the card game, Jass, translating lines from foreign songs, and doing some rather extensive research into the ritual of offering bread and salt. The significance of this last is emphasized in the fact that Chapter Two of In Matto’s Realm is named “Bread and Salt”, and it comes up again on several occasions throughout the book.
No spoilers, but I found the ‘bread and salt’ references all-the-more intriguing because this also plays prominently in the currently popular television series, Game of Thrones (in particular, the episode with the Red Wedding), which I must have watched around the same time I read In Matto’s Realm.
These references rattled vague memories; I knew a bit about the tradition, but not its extensive history, nor its prevalence in literature. I quite like it when a book prompts me to do some research, to learn something that will likely enrich my future reading.
I could go on about In Matto’s Realm, about the musical references, about psychotherapy in its infancy, about my smug delight in translating reviews of the book in German, etc., etc., but that would likely be tedious for everyone but me; instead I’ll leave you with an amusement:
At one point in the book Sergeant Studer is called to investigate a break-in at the clinic’s administrative office. As he arrives:
An oldish woman, hair disheveled, was going in circles round and round the double desk. She reminder Studer of a cat that has had valerian drops sprinkled on its nose.
If, like me, you’re curious about valerian and its effect on cats, Google it, and enjoy the YouTube videos.