Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peter Spiegelman

Peter Spiegelman is the Shamus Award-winning author of four novels, including Thick As Thieves, and three books—Black Maps, Death’s Little Helpers, and Red Cat—that feature private investigator and Wall Street refugee John March.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading Crime, a collection of stories by Ferdinand von Schirach (translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway), which I find quite compelling—scary and disorienting and, above all, deeply moving.

Von Schirach is one of Germany’s leading criminal lawyers, a participant in many high-profile cases, and in his excellent preface (titled “Guilt”) he describes his subject as: “human beings—their failings, their guilt, and their capacity to behave magnificently.” More specifically, he is concerned with the reign of randomness in human lives, how tenuous our hold is on security, sanity, and civilized behavior, how little we know of those closest to us, how fragile our happiness is. As he puts it: “All our lives we dance on a thin layer of ice; it’s very cold underneath, and death is quick. The ice won’t bear the weight of some people and they fall through. That’s the moment that interests me.”

Me too. Von Schirach tells his stories simply, with an eye for the revelatory detail, but without embellishments. His voice (as rendered into English by the talented Ms. Janeway) is restrained and matter-of-fact, but always compassionate—never clinical or distant. And he achieves in his stories something of the quality of fairy tales (I’m talking the dark, Germanic variety here—the Brothers Grimm, not Disney). Events unfold—incredible, horrific, yet somehow inevitable (and all the more terrifying for it). Love sours, honor suffocates, devotion becomes murder. Things go wrong so simply. There are no reassuring morals here, no certain lessons at all, except that people demand our sympathy. There but for the grace of God… Through it all, von Schirach, though touched by these tragedies, remains a calm and reassuring presence—the ideal attorney. It’s a challenging collection, and probably not best for bedtime, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Visit Peter Spiegelman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue