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)