Friday, April 29, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: Crime Fiction Awards, German Style

Our guest this week is Almuth Heuner, a German writer, translator, and literary scholar who specializes in international crime and mystery, especially by female authors. She has published a number of short mysteries, mainly with a culinary theme, and edited several short mystery anthologies as well as translated crime novels into German. Almuth is an active member of the two major German-speaking mystery authors’ organizations, Das Syndikat and Moerderische Schwestern (formerly the German Chapter of Sisters in Crime, of which Almuth is a past president). Find out more about her at (in German; English version under construction).

* All photos by Uwe Kletzing

Last year, I received one hundred mystery novels for free—all new books, all just published, all by new authors from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. They arrived by mail throughout the year (my postman delivered them several times a week with a deadpan face, and I’m sure he was hoping I’d invite him in for coffee!). Afterwards the books sat on a special shelf, waiting for me to make good on my promise to read them within the year.

You will have guessed by now that I’d been elected to a panel of judges, tasked with finding the best debut mystery novel of 2010, originally published in German. That novel will be awarded the Friedrich-Glauser-Preis, which comes with a €1,500 cash prize.

But “Best First Novel” is only one of the categories. Although the most eagerly anticipated Glauser award is the one in the “Best Novel” category (€5,000), the winner of the “Best Short Mystery” also gets a lot of attention. Juvenile mysteries have their own award, which is presented at the same time as the Glauser: the Hansjörg-Martin-Preis (€2,500), whose judges include several young readers in addition to the adults.

The sponsor of all these annual awards is Das Syndikat, a mystery authors' association with more than 600 active members from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The award is very similar to the “Edgar” (the Edgar Allan Poe Award presented by the Mystery Writers of America), even down to the judging process. Each category has five judges, elected from the Syndikat membership, who read all the works submitted to their category by the authors or the publishers. The judges then compile their personal top ten list and meet in late January of the following year to come up with a short list of five entries and select the winner.

Celebrating the Glauser Awards
(with the little red suitcase of cash)
The short list is published a few weeks before the “Criminale”, the annual convention and festival which is usually held in early May. The festival ends with a gala ceremony, called “Tango Criminale”, during which the awards are presented “Oscar style”, like at the Academy Awards. Movie clips first introduce all works and authors from the short lists in each category. Then the presenter draws the winner’s name out of a big envelope, holds a short speech, and presents the award in form of a small statue of a black glove, along with a big check. Instead of the check, the “Best Novel” winner receives a small suitcase filled with used bank notes in small denominations, non-consecutively numbered. (The suitcase is supposed to be returned for the following year’s ceremony, although it doesn’t always turn up in time.)

The “Ehrenglauser” is an unendowed prize (but comes with a small bronze statuette) for individuals who have made a significant overall contribution to the German-language crime and mystery writing scene. Recipients may be authors as well as journalists, publishers and scholars, and any Syndikat member can nominate a person for this award by submitting his or her name to the relevant panel of judges.

The Syndikat, founded in 1986, began awarding prizes in 1987, at first only for Best Novel and the "Ehrenglauser" categories. The other categories came later, Best Juvenile Mystery in 2000 and Best Short Mystery and Best First Novel in 2002.

Almuth presenting the "Ehrenglauser"
to German crime author Sabine Deitmer
And in whose honor did we name our awards? Friedrich Glauser (1896-1938) was born in Austria but moved to Switzerland at the age of 17—more or less permanently. He wanted to be a poet, but his health and rebellious nature prevented him from settling on anything long-term, be it place or vocation. His drug addiction frequently landed him in the hospital, where he started writing crime novels (“In Matto’s Realm”). Today, he is considered one of the earliest German-language crime fiction writers.

Hansjörg Martin (1920-1999) launched the post-World War II era in German crime writing when he wrote his first adult mystery in 1965. But prior to that, he’d written a lot of mysteries for young readers, and continued to do so throughout his writing career.

The 65th Edgar banquet was yesterday, but the nominees for the Glausers and the Martin have to wait another week. This year’s awards ceremony (the 25th), takes place on May 7 in the city of Mönchengladbach, near Cologne, Germany. And we’re all looking forward to the evening gala as well as the entire festival, which starts on May 4. It will be nearly a week of fun and getting together with friends, of celebrating not only the best stories but the entire experience of reading and writing crime and mystery literature.

For an overview of the crime and mystery scene in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, check out the upcoming May/June issue of World Literature Today.

More information about Das Syndikat and the Criminale can be found here (in German): Das Syndikat


  1. Thanks for such an intersesting post, Almuth. Wow, that is a lot of books to read. Your poor postman must wonder what on earth you do with them all. These awards sound fantastic!

  2. What a fun but daunting task! I frequently wonder what I'm missing out on since I only read English ;)

  3. Oh, Almuth, you poor thing. A hundred free books, huh? Must be rough. ;)

    Thanks for a fascinating peek into the German crime fiction world. Do the winners get translated to English or other languages much so we can get a taste of them too? As Gigi said, I feel like I'm missing out!

  4. Yes, really - a 100 books one MUST read! That's a lot. Photos look awesome -- very much reminds me of the Edgars awards. But, I really like the cash suitcase and the banknotes of small denomination - so criminally savvy!

  5. It is so interesting to learn about the mystery world in Germany. I am also interested in the answer to Supriya's question about English translations. It would be fun to see what the similarities and differences are. Happy reading with your 100 books.

  6. Almuth, thanks for blogging with us this week, and especially with such an interesting post.

    I am curious to know how you managed to squeeze 100 more books into your crowded shelves. Maybe you need to get rid of a few... :)

  7. Great post Almuth, I thoroughly enjoyed it. You've certainly piqued my interested in German crime fiction and thank you for contributing to our May/June issue. I do certainly hope we see more German-language crime fiction translated into English in the coming years.

  8. Thank you very much, all of you, and I'm sorry for having taken so much time to answer. I hope you'll find my comment.

    Only very few German crime & mystery novels are translated into English. I recently researched the situation and found that during the last 30 years only about 30 novels were translated, and all of them are by experienced writers. Like you, I'm hoping that more of us will be able to cross over into other languages, especially English.

    For those who want to hunt for probably rather elusive copies of those 30 books mentioned, I'd recommend looking for the following names: Jakob Arjouni (PI novels set in the area where I live), Ingrid Noll (cozies with dark tongue-in-cheek humour), Sebastian Fitzek (dark and bloody pageturners), Petra Hammesfahr (psychological), Jan Costin Wagner (moody Scandinavian-style, set in Finland) and Andrea Maria Schenkel (fictionalized true crime, set in early 20th century).

    BTW, we had a wonderful awards ceremony on May 7, with real tango music and tango dancing and very happy winners! Whom we celebrated in the hotel bar until five in the morning.

    I donated about half of my free books to a library and squeezed the rest on the shelves. (I DID give away some books last year, Heidi.) And don't pity me - the "best novel" jury had to read more than 300 novels, a lot of them way over 400 pages long.

    Thanks again for your comments!