Crime novel is bit fishy

February 28, 1997

TOO many cooks may spoil the broth, but a German publisher has decided this does not apply to literature. Eichborn Verlag has just published a murder-mystery novel written by 103 literature students at Frankfurt University.

The book, Bockenheimer Bouillabaisse, is the product of a course on "the theory and history of the German crime novel", taught by literature specialist Heiner Boehncke.

It has all the fishy ingredients of a campus thriller worthy of Inspector Morse: the mysterious murder of physics professor Hildegard Richter; a quirky police inspector with a passion for cooking who is sent in to solve the crime; and a host of suspects including a jealous academic colleague, an ill-treated research assistant and an industry-sponsored research project.

Professor Boehncke came up with the idea of adding a practical element to his course after someone rather rashly claimed during a seminar that it would be quite easy to write such a novel oneself. He had reckoned on attracting a smattering of student interest, but 103 students signed up.

First the giant novelist team invented their hero, Inspector Hans Wolkenstein, then the framework of a plot, a victim and suspects. Then they split into 12 groups, each of which wrote a chapter. After that, a final editing team of 20 had the tough job of harmonising the writing styles.

The final edition was sent to the publisher 18 months after the start of the project. Since all 103 authors would not fit on the title page, the contributors' names are listed in an appendix and the pseudonym Heiner Trudt was invented.

And how do the 103 students and their professor intend to split the royalities from the book? First they will cook a huge bouillabaisse - and the rest will be donated to the organisation Writers in Prison.

Bockenheimer Bouillabaisse by Heiner Trudt (Eichborn Verlag, DM 24.80).

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