Crime stories are booming, and not just on TV. According to the German book trade association, around a quarter of fiction sales are made with so-called suspense titles such as regional detective stories, thrillers, espionage or historical detective stories. Nevertheless, crime fiction receives little attention from literary critics and universities. The organizers of the crime festival "Mord am Hellweg", which is currently taking place in the Ruhr area, think this is unjustified. For this reason they are organizing the conference “On the Aesthetics of the Crime Novel” from September 30th to October 2nd. Elisabeth Herrmann, successful author of the crime series "Joachim Vernau", which was filmed with Jan Josef Liefers, is also taking part. A meeting with the author in the Westfälisches Literaturbüro Unna, the "main guard" of the crime festival.
WORLD: What is a good thriller, Ms. Herrmann?
Elisabeth Herrmann: The same criteria apply to crime fiction as to literature in general. A good novel, a good short story must be able to create atmosphere, present actions in an unfamiliar and previously unread way, must not use platitudes - and the author should develop his or her own style. This is the case with many crime novels such as Peter Hoeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow", Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" or - Donna Tartt will forgive me, her "Golden Fink" can do it with any Hollywood thriller in the last third record, tape. No one will disagree if these titles are called world literature. But they are also world literary thrillers.
WORLD: Wouldn't Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" also be a thriller under these aspects?
Herrman: Right. Like George Orwell's "1984" and Friedrich Schiller's "The Robbers". Basically, the generic term crime literature is misleading if you want to derive a quality feature from it.
WORLD: Because crime thrillers are often considered trivial?
Herrmann: In Germany, literature is still divided into two categories. If it is pedagogically valuable – then it is literature. The rest is entertainment and therefore neither price nor review worthy, at least not in the features section. In no other country is there such a sharp dividing line between so-called serious "E" and entertaining "U" literature.
WORLD: What do you attribute that to?
Herrmann: These are cultural traditions that arose in the 19th century but are completely outdated today. However, as a result, the idea still prevails that crime novels are simply written without thinking and sell themselves. That is of course absurd.
WORLD: Has a crime novel ever received the Nobel Prize in Literature or the German Book Prize?
Herrmann: (She laughs loudly). No, where are you thinking?
WORLD: Why not?
Herrmann: The criteria applied to such awards are usually not made transparent. One thing is clear: crime fiction does not feature in most of the prestigious prizes.
WORLD: But there are prizes exclusively for the suspense genre, such as the German Crime Prize and the “Viktor Crime Award”, which is awarded by “Mord am Hellweg”. Newspapers like WELT have even had crime bestseller lists for a number of years. Isn't there something moving?
Herrmann: Not really, unfortunately. We crime writers are still not judged by the same standards as poets, novelists or short story writers. This unequal weighting is clearly visible when grants are awarded. I once tried to apply to the Deutsche Akademie Villa Massimo, a renowned artist residency in Rome. As a writer of crime fiction, I had no chance, as with other scholarships. And I'm not alone.
WORLD: Couldn't rejections also have something to do with a strong field of competitors?
Herrman: Sure. But what if no one from crime fiction manages to break through these walls? I then get the impression more and more that a whole genre is being disregarded by the feuilleton critics and the funding institutions. The justification given to us is that we can live from our work. Which, by the way, also applies to a lot of e-authors and actually only applies to a fraction of crime fiction authors. If, on the other hand, you are a poet and only sell 200 or 300 volumes of poetry, then funding is very likely and it becomes easier and easier to find the next one.
WORLD: Isn't it also important to support arts that otherwise have a hard time?
Herrmann: It is right to help new ideas. However, it cannot be the case that state sponsors often use our taxes to subsidize what is virtually unnoticed. I see this not only as a disregard for an entire genre, but also as a disregard for the general public and my colleagues.
WORLD: In fact, many thrillers lack the language level.
Herrmann: A look at the literary canon of recent years shows that many of the books that have been hyped by the critics are just as unappealing in terms of language.
WORLD: What is special about crime fiction?
Herrmann: We deal with current social and political issues such as corruption, white-collar crime, refugee problems or abuse of power, but also violence against women, demographic change, child poverty, drugs, and in such an exciting way that the readers ideally read through the night and that Can't put the book down.
WORLD: Is there any feedback from readers?
Herrmann: For a few years I have been in contact with my readers on Instagram and Facebook and try to answer all inquiries and comments. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult.
WORLD: To what extent?
Herrmann: The tone has changed a lot. That's what my colleagues tell me too. One author, for example, was savagely insulted for having addressed the situation of refugees in her book - from the point of view that it is good to give people seeking help protection and a home. We sometimes get massive objections, which are presented in a very aggressive manner. It seems to me that our forums reflect the radicalization of a small part of our society.
WORLD: As a successful author, you would no longer have to expose yourself to hostilities.
Herrmann: Since I like interacting with my audience, I don't want to let a couple of crazy people ruin it for me. This has no influence on my topics. I don't just write what spontaneously comes into my head, I also take part in our social development. And where our democracy is in danger, we must not duck away.
Murder on Hellweg, until November 12; Information at www.mordamhellweg.de.
The public conference "On the Aesthetics of the Crime Novel" will take place from 30.9. until 2.10. in Haus Opherdicke in Holzwickede. Elisabeth Herrmann reads on October 1st. at 7.30 p.m. in the Museum for Art and Cultural History Dortmund together with Friedrich Ani,
Ivy Pochoda und Dror Mishani.