The Pledge is a classic Novella by the Swiss Author ,Friedrich Durrenmatt, recently re-released by Pushkin Vertigo.Though on the face of it, it's a crime /mystery thriller, it's much more than that and delves more into the obsession of a criminal Investigator.
The story is narrated by a character named Dr H (the former chief of Zurich Police) to a writer(who remains unnamed) of detective fiction. It's basically a tale of a man's (Matthai's) solitary search for a serial killer. A young girl, Gritli is found murdered in the woods close to a Swiss Mountain Village and a local felon is arrested for the crime.But Matthai is convinced that the real killer is someone else and he might also have been responsible for two similar murders which happened a couple of years back. Matthai's hunt for the real killer doesn't yield fruitful results and soon his obsession takes him to borderline insanity. How Matthai overcomes his obsession and how he manages find the truth behind the murder is what 'The Pledge' is all about.
The Pledge is what can be called as a realistic take on detective stories. Durrenmatt's disdain for formulaic crime novels which proceed like mathematical equations with a definite solution is pretty evident through out. Infact, the origin of this novella itself stems to the fact that Friedrich was unhappy with a formulaic screenplay he had written for a crime thriller film!
The characterisation of Matthai is flawless. An aloof ,highly intelligent man who values his 'pledge' more than anything else is what Matthai is. It's brilliant characterisation which makes us root for him and it's again these character traits which makes his obsession look convincing.There aren't many other characters in this book and the climactic reveal is also decently done.
What makes this book a masterpiece is the author's brilliant vision and his razor sharp observations about formulaic mystery thrillers. Most of his observations remain true to the day and it's quite difficult to believe that this book was written almost 60 years ago!
On the whole, I'm giving a 4 out of 5 for this work!