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Say auf wiedersehen to the meerkat detectives

Edited by GreenReaper as of Wed 4 Oct 2017 - 23:19
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Meerkly.jpgDo you read German? I don’t.

I have been occasionally checking to see whether any more of the German murder mysteries featuring animal private detectives have been translated into English. Sadly, all we’ve gotten is three of Akif Pirinçci’s eight hard-boiled cat murder mysteries (Felidae and two of its sequels featuring Francis – you’ve probably seen the German “Felidae” animated feature), and the first of Leonie Swann’s Agatha Christie-like sheep murder mysteries (“Three Bags Full” featuring Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glenkill, maybe in all Ireland, maybe in the world). There have not been any translations of the murder mysteries investigated by dog detectives, pig detectives, goose detectives, parrot detectives, and more. Now it looks like the series by Moritz Matthies starring Ray and Rufus, the meerkat detectives from the Berlin Zoo, has reached its final volume with “Letzte Runde” (“Last Round”) from Fischer Verlag (March 2017, 304 pages).

Moritz Matthies has written five of these, one a year since 2013: “Ausgefressen” (which Amazon’s handy automatic translator says means “Fucked Up”), >“Voll Speed” (“Full Speed”), “Dumm Gelaufen” (“A Silly Walk”), “Dickes Fell” (“Thick Fur”), and now “Letze Runde”. They star the Berlin Zoo meerkat brothers Ray and Rufus, and their large family – Rocky, Marcia, Roxane, and so on since meerkats do not come alone or just in pairs. Ray wants to help and be like Phil, a human private detective; Rufus reads the human newspapers discarded in the trash can near the meerkat enclosure; and – I really don’t read German.

Anyhow, there are lots of animal detective murder mysteries in German, and they just aren’t being translated into English. I’m frustrated.

But not frustrated enough to learn German.


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The entire “Felidae” movie is on YouTube, in German with English subtitles.

Here is my review of the American edition of “Three Bags Full”. It and the “Felidae” novel are in the Los Angeles Public Library. Try your public library.

Fred Patten

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Oh okay, that last link had a review of Three Bags on it... I saw the watership down thing and was confused to its relevance.

You should have instead given me the URL to move the page directly to the review in question:

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I'm learning German. Slowly. It's a difficult language.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I didn't read these so I can't say for sure which of the titles are an intentional pun (most likely they all are), but for a German speaker the meaning of the titles would amount to:

"Ausgefressen" - colloquial for wrongdoing (in the sense of "was hat der wieder ausgefressen": what foul play is he up to again?); but can also be literally translated to "no longer eating" as an unusual expression for "dead". (I have no idea how Amazon gets to "fucked up", that's definitely no translation I would ever use.)

"Voll Speed" - "speed" as an anglicism may be used in this context as "full speed", but Speed is also a drug, so you could translate it to "full of (the drug) speed". I don't know if that has anything to do with the content, Amazon's content description mentions a speedboat, but also animals behaving as if under stimulants.

"Dumm gelaufen" - colloquial for "this didn't go well or according to plan". "Running stupidly" would be the literal translation which seems to refer to the content - this episode plays on the horse racetrack.

"Dickes Fell" - colloquial for "impervious to criticism or insults", which seems to refer to the family trouble (in the content description). The literal translation "thick fur" is not obvious, although it is so generic that it may refer to any of the protagonists.

"Letzte Runde" - "last round" probably refers to the night guard on his last round (from the content description again), and to the notice that it is the last book in the series (although I only find this mentioned in the comments). It may also refer to the last round of drinks in a bar - I don't see that referenced anywhere though.

Hmm, now I have to read one of these...

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So this may not be the final book in the series? That's probably nice -- I say this without having read any of them. Please let us know if they are any good. They must be pretty good for Matthies to have written five of them.

It seems weird that there are so many animal murder mysteries written in Germany, and apparently German furry fans haven't read any of them. !?

Fred Patten

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So far I have only seen comments (but no official note) hinting at the end OR continuation of the series. I guess we will only know when a new book is out.

As far as the many animal detective books are concerned, I believe this is still a hype created by Felidae. That book was an incredible hit in Germany (the fact that there was a movie created after it which broke with all conventions for animation is a telltale sign) and like any hit immediately created a flood of successors. You may say it created a genre.

I read one of those successor books (that one with dogs) and found it quite bad for several reasons. It looked, read, felt, and smelled like a quick money grab. Not being a crime mystery fan, I dropped that genre altogether, and that was that.

The problem with this kind of anthropomorphization (pets or farm species living with their humans but at the same time having an independent, hidden life) is that it takes a huge degree of suspension of disbelief to work. Lassie, Nop's Trials, or Call of the Wild are not anthropomorphized in the same way. Furry novels have anthros that are not realistic pets. Ferals like Lion King are working within their own world (with its own set of issues already).

"Detective animals" however, as well as any pet anthro novels/movies (Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Secret Life of Pets, the new Lassie animated series...), need to integrate with the context of our own world, our own experience, including on how animals behave when we watch or interact with them. That may work out fine, or it may fail horribly (Home on the Range, Spirit: Riding Free).

I found "detective animals" quite difficult to achieve this level of suspension of disbelief, novels much more than movies, as a novel needs (and does) flesh out the world more, gives more background, and goes into detail where a movie "only" needs to create convincing imagery and a broad story. Felidae worked fine in that respect, since cats are "a mysterious animal" already, and many cats are roaming free anyway. That never worked for dogs, which are rarely on their own; it definitely does not work for cows or pet horses; perhaps it may work for that goose but geese don't hold much appeal for me.

Bottom line: I simply never warmed up to that genre. (Personal opinion - other readers may have different experiences.)

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My family had a mysterious "cat roaming free" when I was a child; a gray adult male whom we called Zoop. He wandered in one day and was reasonably affectionate, but he only visited our house once every few days. He apparently roamed our neighborhood and had several homes that he visited regularly to get petted and fed, but he remained free of any of them. He doubtlessly was called by a different name at each house. He visited us for several months or a year, and just stopped appearing eventually. We never learned what happened to him.

Any cats roaming free around Los Angeles today quickly disappear, and are probably eaten by coyotes. Coyotes migrated into Southern California around thirty years ago, and have grown to become a problem. They are invisible by day (although I did see one roaming through the luxury Beverly Hills district once) but come out at night. They have made it impossible to let cats or small dogs out at night. Several years ago some coyotes got into the Los Angeles Zoo one night and slaughtered all the flamingoes in an uncaged pool. About a year ago a coyote den (unoccupied at the moment) was found in downtown L.A., which is heavily urbanized.

My sister Sherry, who lives in a small apartment house in North Hollywood, about ten miles from me, has become a "den mother" to the raccoons in her neighborhood. She leaves out food for them every night, and has gotten a small wading pool that she fills with water so they can wash the food before eating it. The raccoons live in trees during the day, so they don't have to worry about non-climbing animals. We also have lots of squirrels and opossums (also arboreal) around here that can be semi-tamed to eat food left out for them, although they run away if approached by a human. I have occasionally smelled a skunk, although I don't know anyone who has seen one.

This news report was broadcast several years ago, and has become famous.

Fred Patten

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So instead of "the butler was the murderer", it is "the coyote was the murderer" here... I can imagine a cat detective novel playing in LA where the cat detective has to defend a coyote against suspicions, just to play against the type... But Felidae takes place in Germany so no coyotes around, and dogs stay indoors for the most.

Recently, raccoons have spread here. I wish Akif Pirincci had stayed with plausible mysteries involving the local and imported fauna instead of burning his franchise in increasingly unbelievable tall tales. (And then burning his reputation by slightly-more-than-right-wing speeches.)

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If there are raccoons in Berlin now, and EuroFurence is there now, has the EuroFurence tried to attract any raccoons?

Fred Patten

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Attract feral raccoons? The bums don't even pay the con fee! Also, we got our own raccoons already.

No really, trash pandas ftw ;-)

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I should say that I’ve read the English translations of “Felidae” and "Felidae on the Road” by Akif Pirinçci, and “Three Bags Full” by Leonie Swann, and I saw the “Felidae” animated movie.

I thought it was amusing that all three books were translated into English by Anthea Bell, who also translated the French “Astérix” cartoon books (at least those written by René Goscinny; I haven’t read those since his death) into English.

The “Felidae” novel is better than the movie, in my opinion. The movie is very faithful, but it’s too compressed. In the novel, Francis walks into a murder scene, studies it carefully, ponders for a few minutes, and then tells his theory of what must have happened. In the movie, he’s telling his theory while he’s entering the scene. This speeds up the story, but makes Francis seem like a know-it-all.

Both the book and the movie are properly morbid and cynical.

“Felidae on the Road” (the second novel in the series; the German title is “Francis”) begins so similarly to “Felidae” that I almost quit reading it halfway through because it seemed to be an unimaginative copy. This turned out to be deliberate; the killer is aware of Francis’ previous case, and is trying to mislead him into thinking the crimes are alike.

I haven’t read the third novel translated into English, which seems to be an obscure paperback the library doesn’t have.

I enjoyed “Three Bags Full” once I got past the victim’s having been stabbed to death with a spade. I’ve wondered if “spade” is a mistranslation for some other farm implement such as a pitchfork, since you couldn’t stick a spade through a body. But Bell seems to be too good a translator to have gotten the word wrong.

The sequel, “Garou”, looks fascinating.

Fred Patten

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Random comment from a thread on another one of my Internet hangouts for copying random comments without context:

Several years back I was shelving in the mystery section and an older woman asked me to help her look up books with cats solving mysteries. So I go to work in the catalog and start listing off authors and titles, but she's read everything, and I mean everything involving cats and mysteries. So I'm about to send her to the actual librarian just to double check in case I missed something, and I make an offhand comment "We have a bunch of books with dogs solving mysteries!" She just glares at me and spits out "Don't be absurd, dogs can't solve mysteries."

I wonder what her opinions on meerkats detective skills are.

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Most -- well, really all -- of the animals-solving-mysteries novels that I've seen on are pretty obviously "cute comedies". I'd still like to read them. I did enjoy "Three Bags Full".

Fred Patten

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There seems to be a pretty flourishing sub-genre of cat mystery solvers actually filed in the mystery section of chain bookstores.

I did read one involving foxes, and it was both pretty serious and very American; it involved a fox-hunting club in Virginia (the American part, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't translated) and hard drug use, infidelity, racial and class tensions, just a lot of "not cute comedy" stuff. I believe the author was prolific cat detective author who decided a fox/foxhound team-up would be interesting; the murder could even be considered a double murder, since a fox was killed in the set-up. In fact, as the human victim was very unsympathetic and the murderer had sympathetic motives, the fox death is actually what gets punished; the fox-hunting club only chased foxes, and killing them was thought of as a crime, as the human detective makes clear she's only turning the perpetrator in because she killed the fox.

It was a few years back, and I think the novel got a sequel, but I can't even remember the name of the one I read; it wasn't very good as a detective/crime novel, and I didn't like the human "detective" stand-in, so that was my one foray into the genre. Will note in this novel, animals could talk to each other, but not humans.

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Yeah, this is Rita Mae Brown’s “Sister” Jane Arnold murder-mystery series. “Sister” Jane is the master of hounds of the fox-hunting club. It’s semi-anthropomorphic. The main characters are the humans, but their foxhounds and horses, and the foxes and other wildlife, talk a little in the background. There are nine so far; she’s still writing them.

Brown also writes the Mrs. Murphy cat-detective series, “in collaboration” with her pet cat Sneaky Pie Brown – except that since she’s been writing these for almost twenty years, I suspect that Sneaky Pie isn’t really around to collaborate with her any more.

The “Sister” Jane novels do have nicely anthropomorphic dust jackets.

Fred Patten

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I compiled a five-part series on Cat Crimebusters in English for Dogpatch Press. Here is the last of them, with links to the others.

Fred Patten

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