Heinrich Steinfest: Crime Novels for Armchair Potatoes

     |    Monday, der 30. August 2010


News from the Analog World


It all started with “Gewitter über Pluto” and “Mariaschwarz”. Here was a new author that I really liked: Austrian Heinrich Steinfest.  What a pleasure! Inventive, humorous, nasty, absolutely absurd yet staying in the here and now. Associative and thoughtful. Wonderful.

I’ve just finished the author’s seventh book, “Batmans Schönheit”. I’m sad to report that I find myself at the low point of a slowly evolving disillusionment which crept in while reading my way backwards through his body of work.

Of course the new Steinfest isn’t exactly bad. It’s a crime story that Steinfeld attempts to tell by way of association, convoluted observations and meditated reflections. But the story ends up being more interrupted than told by this device. Ok, that’s not exactly fair. But you could say that he succeeds in interrupting his own storytelling. Steinfest focuses our attention on the inessential, the incidental – and in doing so draws our attention away from the story itself. But his humorous reflections  – mini essays, you might say – actually do more than that. They deconstruct the bloodcurdling crime plot and reduce it to the building blocks of a tirade of literary irony. Which explains why a narrative won’t be summarized here. As far as the ’story’ goes: it’s partly about angels and about Cheng, the Viennese detective of Chinese and Japanese descent who stutters in his native tongue but speaks perfect German etc. Steinfest isn’t trying to weave breathless suspense along the lines of “how’s it going to end”. There’s no synthetic blood and guts, no horror in the face of insurmountable evil. The man writes crime novels for good-natured armchair potatoes. Ideally, Steinfest creates a steady balance between plot accelerators and plot decelerators. Readers are kept hanging either way. Ideally, that is.

But Steinfeld can’t quite keep the balance act going. Maybe he went too heavy on the self-references. These come across as vain and not as the amusing asides they’re intended to be. Nonetheless “Batmans Schönheit” is readable. However a book like “Gewitter über Pluto” is more than readable, it’s a must read.