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  • Reviews for The Chinaman by Friedrich Glauser
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Reviews for The Chinaman by Friedrich Glauser
'Had he been a privileged American adolescent in the 1980s, Friedrich Glauser might well have been sent off to an institution like the Santangelo Academy.
Instead, Glauser, who was born in Vienna in 1896 and died at age 42, spent much of his adult life in psychiatric wards and prisons, with a stint in the French Foreign Legion for good measure. A schizophrenic who was addicted to morphine and opium, Glauser somehow managed to hold himself together long enough to write a series of odd crime novels featuring a Swiss policeman named Sgt. Studer. (In recognition of Glauser's achievement, Germany has dubbed its most prestigious crime fiction award the Glauser Prize.) The Bitter Lemon Press, which has been reprinting these novels in nice paperback editions, has just brought out a fourth Studer adventure, The Chinaman, first published in 1939.Peculiar, very peculiar. So many elements are missing from this novel that it's barely the sketch of a mystery, and yet it's utterly compelling. The plot is at once murky and overly simplistic:
something about a stranger and Studer meeting by happenstance at an inn situated in a glum Swiss village. Months later, the stranger's corpse is found lying on the fresh grave of a woman who also turns out to be a murder victim. A poorhouse and a horticultural college are half-glimpsed sites for Studer's desultory investigation; Studer himself scarcely registers as a main character. Yet The Chinaman is so atmospheric that none of these absences matters. Maybe it's that portentous original publication date --
1939 -- that makes a reader pay special attention to the suspicion of the Swiss villagers, the coarseness of the apartment dwellers in a Bern tenement, the edginess everywhere. Whatever the source of its disturbing power, The Chinaman is one of those classic mystery tales in which all answers are provisional, all protestations of innocence absurd.' - Washington Post
'The fourth of Friedrich Glauser's mysteries, The Chinaman, is as quirky as the first three--and each of the books is a distinctive take on the crime novel. The Chinaman starts with an exotic Holmesian premise, a dead man found spread across a recent grave is recently returned to his Swiss homeland after a lifetime at sea. And the detective called to the scene, Sergeant Studer, as it happens, encountered the dead man (nicknamed the Chinaman by the detective, for his oriental appearance) months earlier in a rural inn--and the Chinaman had asked the detective to investigate his murder in the future. But the story is actually more Dickensian, limited to the inn, a poorhouse, and a horticultural college, all in the small town where the body was found. Some elements of the Agatha Christie cozy sort crop up (and Christie and several other crime writers, including Simenon, are mentioned in passing as Studer finds their books on various townspeople's shelves)--but perhaps a bit too many poisons, hostile townspeople, and shootings for a conventional cozy. As with Studer's first case in Thumbprint, also set in a small town, there is an inexplicable claustrophobia that sets Glauser's stories apart from conventional mysteries. Even in the third of the books, Fever, with its adventure novel quality and its settings spread across Europe and North Africa, there is the atmosphere of tense, paranoiac claustrophobia. In The Chinaman, there is an exotic murder in a greenhouse that resonates particularly with me: When I was growing up my family had greenhouses, and from time to time I helped "bomb" them with insecticides. I'd set the boxes of insecticide on the floor at one end of the greenhouse, stick a sparker into it as a fuse, and light it. I'd walk quickly toward the exit at the other end, and if I looked back, I'd see the fog of poison billowing up around the flower beds and rushing toward me. The murder in The Chinaman isn't quite like that, but it involves what Glauser calls a glasshouse, an insecticide fog, and a character who is locked in. And as was the case with our greenhouses, one of the poisons available to bomb the glasshouse is nicotine, which we used to use until safety regulations forbid it (because it would kill anything). Glauser's characters vent the scene of the murder before entering, also a familiar task from my own experience, but they don't seem to worry much about residual poison inside (something that always spooked me, remembering that onrushing fog of gas, when I went into the greenhouse the next morning). But personal connection to the plot aside, Glauser's novel is a sometimes comic, twisted take on the mystery novel, right down to the final confrontation with the murderers (in the fashion of both Simenon and the cozies, with the suspects gathered together in the room). Studer's considerable sympathy with some of the downtrodden and unfortunate characters in this story feels genuine and adds a vital, human dimension to this distinctive tale from 1939. The more of Glauser that we have in English (thanks to Bitter Lemon Press) the more we can appreciate the achievement of an author who could craft these intricate tales in spite of his own struggles with schizophrenia, addiction, and incarceration. One more word of praise for Bitter Lemon: while all the Glauser books have attractive cover designs, The Chinaman's cover captures the off-center quality of this novel in particular, with an acid yellow color and a weird perspective in the photo of a body lying across a grave.' - internationalnoir.blogspot.com
'In Bern, Switzerland James Farny's corpse is found lying on top of the recently buried wife of the poorhouse warden; the doctor pronounces it is suicide due to a self inflicted shot into the heart. The Bern police brass is content with supporting the "official " ruling.However, Bern Police Sergeant Jakob Studer notices some odd anomalies starting with no bullet hole torn through the victim's clothing though he is fully clad and yet shot in the heart. Studer also recognizes Farny as a person he remembers seeing several months ago in the tiny village of Pfrundisberg because the man predicted his demise to his associates. As Studer investigates while his superior fumes but knows better than to interfere with his best and most frustrating cop, clues lead Studer to realize the prime suspects in what he believes is murder reside at the poorhouse, a horticultural college, and the Sun Inn where he first "met " Farny.The latest translation of a Studer police procedural (see IN MATTO'S REALM, FEVER and THUMBPRINT) is a fabulous tale in which the intelligent dedicated cop works out the homicide by analyzing the interrelationships motives between the victim and those at the three locales and their potential motives for committing a murder. Although Studer's technique has been used quite often since THE CHINAMAN was first released in the late 1930s, the vivid look into Swiss society with Hitler beginning to spread his Third Reich vision across the continent makes the tale feel like a fresh historical whodunit.' - genregoroundreviews.blogspot.com
'THE CHINAMAN, the fourth Sergeant Studer mystery to be published by Bitter Lemon Press, presents the reader with classic elements of crime writing turned on their heads to produce a rare treat for the fan of 1930's mysteries. A corpse found on a new grave, shot through the heart without the bullet piercing his clothing, the handkerchiefs of Anna Hungerlott, recently dead from gastric influenza, which show traces of arsenic, and a locked room murder in a college greenhouse all combine to keep the reader guessing until the last pages are turned.Friedrich Glauser gained fame throughout Europe for his mystery writing. Often called the Swiss Simenon, Glauser was a diagnosed schizophrenic, addicted to opium and morphine and a frequent resident of psychiatric wards, insane asylums and, when arrested for forging prescriptions, prisons. This did not prevent him from creating an enduring hero in Sergeant Studer. Burly, rough spoken but quietly intelligent, Studer had been a detective superintendent in Bern before being demoted for arresting the wrong politician. Now a lowly sergeant, he remains the man who is always called to investigate puzzling murders.
THE CHINAMAN of the title is no Chinaman but rather a Swiss expat, returned home after making his fortune in the Far East . He predicts his own death and asks Studer to investigate it when the time comes. He goes so far as to introduce a number of possible suspects to the sergeant. Four months later he is found murdered and the game is afoot.
THE CHINAMAN continues Studer's crime-solving career and requires all of his talents and those of his friends: the lawyer, Münch, and the pathologist, Dr. Malapelle of the Institute for Forensic Medicine. Along the way he picks up a sidekick who has escaped from the poorhouse and lived in the woods to avoid jail. Part of the charm of the book is that it was originally serialized in the National-Zeitung, Basel in 1938. Because of this, each chapter has its excitement and the pace never lets up from beginning to end.
Another rare gem, THE CHINAMAN is further evidence of why Germany 's most prestigious crime fiction award is called the Glauser prize.' - Iloveamysterynewsletter.com
'This latest offering from the excellent Bitter Lemon Press shows that while the likes of Christie and Sayers were dominating the Golden Age of Crime, there was equally strong writing going on elsewhere in Europe. Friedrich Glauser's books are often set in small villages with a picaresque supporting cast, but there any resemblance ends. His hero is the gruff and laconic Sgt Studer. Studer was once an inspector in Bern, but was demoted to a country sergeant after blotting his copybook with the powers that be. But he's the man called on to solve tricky crimes and appears to work in grand isolation. The latest mystery from Glauser, a drug addict who started writing crime novels whilst he was in a lunatic asylum, has the dogged Studer investigating the murder of James Farny - nicknamed The Chinaman by our hero. The chap, whom Studer had met briefly before his death, is found dead on a gravestone with a bullet through the heart - but the shot hasn't pierced his clothes. And to complicate matters for Studer, the grave is that of Anna Hungerlott, the wife of the poorhouse warden - and she too has been murdered. Studer's search takes him from a country pub to a horticultural college to the poorhouse, with occasional trips back to the city for one of his wife's excellent lunches. The Chinaman is the fourth of this delightful series to be translated into English and is carried almost single-handed by our tenacious hero. He gets results by his sharp eye and by playing the country bumpkin. One minute he's talking rural Swiss, then just as suddenly disconcerts his interviewee by switching to formal high German. He's a man you underestimate at your peril. The books are snapshots of a community with the eccentric supporting cast, all described precisely by Glauser's razor-sharp prose. And the book feels so fresh that it could have been written yesterday, helped in no small measure by Mike Mitchell's bright and sparky translation.' - Reviewingthevidence.com
'One of best five mystery novels of 2008. The Bitter Lemon Press has been doing serious mystery readers in America a service by translating and reprinting the work of Friedrich Glauser, who was born in Vienna in 1896 and died at the age of 42. Glauser spent much of his adult life in psychiatric wards and prisons, but he somehow managed to write a hypnotic series of crime novels featuring a Swiss policeman named Sergeant Studer. (In recognition of Glauser's achievement, Germany has dubbed its most prestigious crime fiction award the Glauser Prize.).
This year, Bitter Lemon brought out the fourth Studer adventure, The Chinaman, which was first published in 1939. The murky and absolutely compelling plot has something to do with a happenstance meeting between Studer and a stranger at a glum Swiss inn. Months later, the stranger's corpse is found lying on the fresh grave of a woman who also turns out to be a murder victim. Maybe it's the portentous original publication date - 1939 - that makes readers pay attention to the suspicion of the Swiss villagers, the coarseness of the apartment dwellers in a Bern tenement, the edginess everywhere. (In January, Bitter Lemon will bring out another Studer classic, The Spoke.)'

- npr

'Sergeant Studer has a strange encounter with a man he dubs the Chinaman when he chances upon a pub in a village mainly consisting of a poorhouse and a horticultural college. The man says he'd like him to be the one to investigate his murder-and a few weeks later Studer is indeed inspecting his body, shot dead over a woman's grave as if suicide, but with no blood on his clothing. It's a crime in another world to ours--written in 1938 and set in Switzerland, it is one of the classics by Glauser, a cult figure of European crime writing and known also for his drug addiction, mental problems and early death. If you can slip back in time to appreciate it, it's a good yarn and with as many complicated family ties and sub-plots as a soap opera.'

- Coventry Evening Telegraph and Nuneaton Evening Telegraph
'Friedrich the Great' :The Chinaman is the latest in Bitter Lemon Press's translations of the great Friedrich Glauser's Sergeant Studer novels. It equals the best of its predecessors, but it's warmer, more personal and touched with more wry humor than the books that came before: Thumbprint, In Matto's Realm and Fever.

The Chinaman has Studer (once a high police official, but kicked off the force years earlier and forced to start again from the bottom) investigating the death of a man who had calmly made preparations for the possibility of his own murder. As in the earlier books, the settings are small and tightly circumscribed: a village inn, a horticultural college, a poorhouse. The latter two are the occasions for some bitter observations on Studer's part, but sympathy is more characteristic of his approach, sympathy akin to that sometimes displayed by Georges Simenon's Maigret, to whom Studer has been compared.

There is enough traditional mystery to The Chinaman that I'll avoid saying any more about the plot, except that money and another death are involved. Sympathy even more intense than Maigret's (and, it seems to me, than Studer's own in the earlier novels), guides the sergeant in his investigation here, as does antipathy toward interfering, corrupt and viciously condescending know-it-alls.

As for the humor and fun, how about Studer's sly observation that "detective novels seemed popular in Pfründisberg" -- Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, and, yes, Simenon. Or how about the unconventional assistant Studer acquires, a heartbreakingly earnest young man whose snoring keeps Studer awake when they are compelled to share a room at the inn? And there is keen social comedy in a friend's assessment of Studer's career prospects:

"Studer, I told him, would probably never get beyond sergeant. In the first place he hadn't got any relatives ... and in the second place we like to keep competent people in subordinate positions and only use them when it's absolutely necessary. Then we can order them around, so everything's OK." - Detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot
'In Bern, Switzerland James Farny's corpse is found lying on top of the recently buried wife of the poorhouse warden; the doctor pronounces it is suicide due to a self inflicted shot into the heart. The Bern police brass is content with supporting the "official" ruling.
However, Bern Police Sergeant Jakob Studer notices some odd anomalies starting with no bullet hole torn through the victim's clothing though he is fully clad and yet shot in the heart. Studer also recognizes Farny as a person he remembers seeing several months ago in the tiny village of Pfrundisberg because the man predicted his demise to his associates. As Studer investigates while his superior fumes but knows better than to interfere with his best and most frustrating cop, clues lead Studer to realize the prime suspects in what he believes is murder reside at the poorhouse, a horticultural college, and the Sun Inn where he first "met" Farny.
The latest translation of a Studer police procedural (see IN MATTO'S REALM, FEVER and THUMBPRINT) is a fabulous tale in which the intelligent dedicated cop works out the homicide by analyzing the interrelationships motives between the victim and those at the three locales and their potential motives for committing a murder. Although Studer's technique has been used quite often since THE CHINAMAN was first released in the late 1930s, the vivid look into Swiss society with Hitler beginning to spread his Third Reich vision across the continent makes the tale feel like a fresh historical whodunit.' - MBR-Midwest Book Review
'There is not much in English about Swiss author Friedrich Glauser. Until Bitter Lemon Press started translating his Sergeant Studer novels a few years ago, he was more or less unknown in the English speaking world, despite having a major crime fiction prize named after him in Germany. What little information is available about him is intriguing. He was a morphine addict, and perhaps a schizophrenic, who spent a good portion of his life in prison and asylums. In fact, he started his writing career while in an asylum. The latest novel to be translated into English by Mike Mitchell is The Chinaman (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008). The fourth of the Studer novels, The Chinaman finds Studer trying to solve the murder of the titular character, James Farny, who is not Chinese, but Swiss. Studer gives him the nickname after seeing his slanted eyes.
Studer meets Farny by chance one night when his motorcycle runs out of gas, and he has to stop at an inn to get more gas. Farny tells Studer that he fears he will be murdered and, four months later he is found shot to death on the grave of the recently deceased wife of the village poorhouse's warden. Some think it is a suicide, but Studer knows better and sets out to find the culprit.
The novel itself is a cross between Agatha Christie and CSI. Using primitive forensic investigation techniques, Studer uncovers not one, but two murders and tries to winnow down a long suspect list. When Studer does unmask the culprits, he does so in a fashion befitting Poirot or Nero Wolfe. The story itself is not exceptional, but the author's anger is. As befitting someone who spent a good deal of his life hounded by the authorities for the victimless crime of self-medicating, Glauser has a strong libertarian streak which is evident in his writing. In The Chinaman his wrath is largely focused on the way the poor are rounded up and warehoused in poorhouses. The most contemptible character in the novel is the poorhouse warden, who will spout off to anyone who will listen about the intractable problem of "pauperism. " The flipside is Ludwig Farny, nephew of the deceased and a poorhouse inmate, who, though poor, manages to be intelligent, honest and noble. While this is, in may ways, a drawing room mystery, complete with all the suspects brought together for the climax, it's not every drawing room mystery that contains a call to smash the state.'
- Independent Crime - http://indiecrime.blogspot.com/
Short list of best crime novels of 2007: The Chinaman. 'Another carefully observed, quiet, mordantly satirical mystery from this great Swiss writer of the 1930s, though warmer, more personal and touched with more wry humor than its predecessors: Thumbprint, In Matto's Realm and Fever. This superlative crime writer is the jewel of Bitter Lemon Press' fine catalogue.' - Detectives Beyond Borders
'Glauser is the "man" in European crime writing circles. This is yet another fine example of his incredible writing and enigmatic storytelling.' - Literaturechick.com
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