Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge / Ingrid Noll

Over at Barbara Fister’s blog, you can find details of the Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge, which celebrates 25 years of Sisters in Crime and the wealth of quality crime fiction written by women. 

I’m embarking on the Easy challenge: write a blog post about a work of crime fiction by a woman author; list five more women authors who you recommend.

My choice is The Pharmacist (Die Apothekerin), by one of Germany’s most successful and respected crime novelists, Ingrid Noll.

Ingrid Noll is in now her seventies, and only started writing seriously in her mid-fifties, after her three children had left home. The delayed start to her career as an author -perhaps not too unusual for a woman of her generation – gives all of us late developers hope and is one of the reasons I’ve selected her for this challenge.

I’ve also chosen Noll because (as she herself says), her novels are predominantly concerned with the lives of ordinary women, and how they set about achieving their goals within the constraints of a patriarchal, bourgeois society … by fair means or foul. She’s the writer of darkly humorous and highly original crime novels, often compared to those of Patricia Highsmith, which offer an entertainingly twisted vision of female empowerment – part of the German subgenre known as the Täterinnenkrimi (female perpetrator crime novel). At the same time her depictions of relationships avoid gender stereotyping: both her male and female characters are complex and interestingly flawed, which allows you to sympathise with them and despair of them all at the same time.

Poster for the 1997 film adaptation of Die Apothekerin/The Pharmacist

The Pharmacist, first published in 1994, is narrated in the first person by Hella Moormann. She is the pharmacist of the title, currently a hospital patient, who during the dull evening hours relates her life-story to Rosemarie Hirte, a mousy woman who keeps falling asleep in the next-door bed. We hear how Hella’s penchant for shady characters and co-dependency leads her into a relationship with the younger, amoral Levin, and how before long, she is drawn into a series of dubious, not to mention criminal events. The big question is: just how passive is Hella? Is she a victim of her machiavellian boyfriend? Or is she actually much more in control of the situation than she would care to admit? And just how wise is she to tell her story to the seemingly innocent Frau Hirte, whose snores may not be all they seem?

Delicious stuff!

The Pharmacist, trans. from the German by Ian Mitchell (London: HarperCollins, 1999).

Five other women crime writers I would recommend:

Josephine Tay, author of The Daughter of Time – another ‘hospital mystery’ (UK)

Maj Sjowall, co-author of the Martin Beck series (Sweden)

Fred Vargas, author of the Adamsberg series (France)

Dominique Manotti, author of Affairs of State and a very different writer to Vargas (France)

P.D. James, the grand Dame of British crime writing (UK)

11 thoughts on “Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge / Ingrid Noll

  1. Excellent post, and this is a novel I haven’t read, ‘though I’d heard of it. So thanks for that recommendation. And I especially like your choices of Maj Sjöwall, Josephine Tey and P.D. James as other recommendations – all of them such influential women writers!

    • Thanks very much, Margot. It’s the first challenge I’ve taken part in as a blogger, and it was most enjoyable. I’ve been following Maxine’s posts – she of course is already on the moderate challenge – and it’s been great to see the variety of posts from lots of different bloggers. I need to catch up on a few, though. Have you / are you taking part? Will pop over for a read if so 🙂

      • Thanks for asking. No, as appealing as this challenge is – and it really, really is! – I’ve other things going on in my reading, writing and “day job” life and just couldn’t do it justice. So I’m shamelessly lurking about learning from others’ hard work ;-).

      • I totally understand, Margot! Spinning lots of plates myself at the moment, and it was just a happy coincidence that my reading and the challenge happened to fit together nicely.

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  3. Ooh, I loved this book and the two others by Noll that have been translated (one other is about Rosemarie also). They are so witty, weird and sharp! Lovely to have a not-so-young woman as the protag. Great post, I wonder if you will continue with the challenge? I like your other recommendations, too, though I am not so much in tune with Vargas as other readers.

    • Thanks, Maxine. I haven’t read the other two yet, but gathered that Rosemarie was central to another. She’s almost intended as an in-joke to the author and reader in this one, I suspect. What I love about the book is that Noll reveals a kind of everyday criminality: Hella is a respectable member of the local community, but not nearly as morally upright as one might think from outer appearances. Noll seems to be having a dig at respectable middle-class German society. Just scratch the surface…

      Move up a level with the challenge? I’d love too, but know that the beginning of term, just about to strike, will put a serious dent in my blogging time 😦 Looking forward to more of yours though 🙂

  4. Terrific blog, a real gold mine for all crime lovers!
    Ingrid Noll (by the way, she is the wife of a – pharmacist!) is definitely worth reading. I enjoyed also Hell Hath No Fury (Der Hahn ist tot), with Frau Hirte as the main character, a lot. Excellent story with plenty of black humor. My review, in case you are interested:

    • Thanks very much, Mytwostotinki – I’m delighted you like the blog.

      Thanks for linking to your review, which I really enjoyed. I haven’t yet red Hell Hath No Fury, but I’m sure I’ll love it – Noll’s works really are delicious reads, and I love their acidic dissection of small-town Germany.

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