Requiem for Detective Fiction


The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel is a novel by the Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt published in 1958. It tells the story of a super-detective named Matthäi who is now insane and working at an isolated gas station in a small forsaken town. Years earlier, Matthäi had come to this place to solve the case of a child murder. From the start, Matthäi begins to assemble a highly detailed profile of the criminal. In effect, he solves the mystery right after taking the case. Having solved the puzzle, Matthäi then devises an elaborate trap to catch the suspect, to confirm his sure theory and close yet another case. But the serial killer never arrives. Shocked by the failure of his method, Matthäi succumbs to alcoholism. Years later, with Matthäi now insane, it is revealed to the new chief of police that the serial killer was indeed heading to the trap on the day Matthäi expected him, but, in a sudden twist of fate, died in a car accident on his way to bite Matthäi’s bait.

This is a brief but sufficient summary of Dürrenmatt’s requiem for the detective novel. We could even condense it into a simple description: This is a story about the logic of detection and its failure owing to its faith in the prior reliability of law-like generalities…