Monday, June 05, 2006

Black Ice, by Hans Werner Kettenbach

(pb; 1982)


Jupp Scholten, a 58-year old office worker in a civil engineering company, finds himself in the unlikely role of a sleuth after his boss of twenty-something years, Erica Wallman, dies in a suspicious “accident.” Nobody else seems to share his suspicions, so he begins a solitary investigation, all the while dealing with Kurt Wallman – Erica's philandering husband, now Jupp's increasingly rude boss – who's the most promising suspect, and Hilde, Jupp's shrewish, clingy wife of thirty-six “hellish” years.

There's not a lot of action in Black Ice. Most of the 224-page novel is made up of Jupp trying to figure out how Kurt pulled off the murder, if he did. And once Jupp thinks he knows how Kurt did it, that (possible) knowledge shoots Jupp along unexpected, life-changing tangents.

The prose – much of it stream-of-consciousness meandering, and later, panic – is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley: so much so, that the structure and tone of Black Ice seems to be directly lifted from Highsmith's first Ripley novel.

Kettenbach even has a Ripley-like finish, abrupt and fitting. However, Kettenbach doesn't quite echo the mastery of Highsmith's work, because there's too much meandering in the novel's middle section. (Excising one or two chapters would've fixed that.)

On the whole, Black Ice is a worthwhile read, and Kettenbach is clearly a writer to watch out for – should he find his own voice.

In 1998, this became a German television film, titled Glatteis (which, I'm guessing, translates into “black ice”). Gunter Lamprecht played Scholten. Gottfried John played Kurt Wallman. Gudrun Gabriel played Erika Wallman. It was directed by Michael Gutmann.

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