Isn’t it time for a pan-European crime fiction award? In Europe we share anxieties, hopes and problems, and many of us even share the currency and external borders. Ray Banks’ description of young men who can’t keep up with the changing rules of a society in SATURDAY’S CHILD applies to males in Hamburg as well as in Newcastle; the struggle of societies to come to terms with the influx of eastern European immigrants in Massimo Carlotto’s THE GOODBYE KISS happens not only in northern Italy; and Andrea Maria Schenkels petty people in TANNÖD (English: THE MURDER VILLAGE) could live in other remote rural regions of Europe as well. Among the huge number of smaller and larger crime fiction awards in Europe, so far none focuses on our joint future.
It is therefore a pity that the crime fiction festival “Mord am Hellweg” (Murder at the Hellweg) missed an opportunity when it initiated a “European Crime Fiction Star Award” and named the award The Ripper Award (based on Jack the Ripper).
Am Hellweg is a region in western Germany, situated between Duisburg and Paderborn. Since 2002 a bi-annual crime fiction festival has been held in several of its cities. The festival claims that it is the largest festival of its kind in Europe [no wonder: in 2008 it will last almost two months – 13th September to 8th November – and includes 150 events in 20 cities]. To be honest, were it not for the festival I wouldn’t know the “Am Hellweg Region” and I wouldn’t know the festival if it wasn’t for the ongoing discussion about the “The Ripper” award.
Choosing the name “The Ripper” for its award served the festival’s aim well and started a debate in the German-based internet community that provided the publicity the festival lacked in the past. The intentions of the award are, according to the press release, as follows:
“The Ripper, the European Crime Fiction Star Award, honours a female or male crime fiction author who has rendered outstanding services to crime literature within Europe. [...] whose work testifies responsibility for crime literature in a special way and stands for a lively and modern development of the genre. His / her work is of European importance and / or has received a significant reception within Europe.”So what “responsibilities” do writers have to the genre ?
If you want to select an eminent European author you need obviously a jury that knows the work and the reception of European crime fiction writers. What crime fiction writers come to mind, who would meet the expectations of the nomination criteria? Ian Rankin, Fred Vargas or Henning Mankell? Nominees could be proposed until the end of March. Bloggers are not explicitly excluded and the first author who came to my mind was Ken Bruen (right). I really thought about proposing him. Would he be happy, coming in from Dublin by one of those small aeroplanes, and telling the Galway audience that he had won “the Ripper” award, named after the London Ripper ?
In the case of the Ripper award, a jury “of five German and international crime fiction authors” (German authors obviously are not international) make a pre-selection. In 2008 three of these are Germans / Austrians, plus Peter James and Camilla Läckberg. At the end the winner is chosen by the visitors to the festival. Visitors who participate just a short while at a festival that takes two months, visitors whose primary language more often than not is German, and visitors who most likely do not read foreign writers in their native tongue. These are visitors who attend events that are all fun and games (featuring music, cabaret, vine events etc.).
Present at the festival this year, beside several German crime fiction writers and therefore representing the “European crime fiction writer elite”, are Leo P. Ard (Mallorca), Peter James (England), Bernhard Jaumann (Namibia), Michael Morley (England), Sabina Naber (Österreich), Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Island), Maj Sjöwall und Jürgen Alberts (Schweden/Bremen), Michael Theurillat (Schweiz), and Jac Toes und Thomas Hoeps (Niederlande) [Leo P. Ard and Bernhard Jaumann are Germans].
As far as I can see, with this pompous award criteria and the awkward selection procedure, the crime fiction star award was established to promote and market a touristic spectacle.
There is, though, a small discussion in Germany as to whether the name is witty, prudent or insulting. It seems that the more literary or commercially inclined find the name acceptable. They argue that the Ripper is not so much a serial killer as a metaphor symbolizing mass media-induced mass hysteria. “The name refers to one of the modern urban legends, ‘a serial murderer, who is connected to horror but also to delinquency and crime fiction par excellence’” ((1) kultur.macht.europa, quoting Sigrun Krauss, a member of the organizing committee).
The London Ripper a urban legend ?
“Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time” (Wikipedia). I personally would agree, that the Ripper is a metaphor that writers use to evoke an image of a murderer lurking in the streets and killing innocent people, but there is no exaggeration nor distortion about this image, because we are well informed about his victims. There is nothing sensational about David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet that is “inspired” by a second Ripper roaming Yorkshire and disturbing the mind of the young Peace so profoundly that he needs to loose the demons by writing the Quartet.
So can we expect that the next time they look for an name for a spy novel award they will chose Adolf Eichmann?
It might be due to this discussion that the explanation that the Ripper Award refers to the London Ripper had been tacitly removed from the German text of the award announcement, although I don’t know what is gained by this small gesture. – Bernd Kochanowski