Robert Devine on The Heidelberg Case

Inaugural video. I apologise in advance for my voice. Breathing difficulties and a bit of an autumn sniffle have left me croaky.

A transcript of the video is pasted in below.



In contrast to my normal videos, I’m speaking to you as Robert Devine, the author of dark and dangerous thrillers, not David Robinson, the man you know for his light-hearted mysteries and sledgehammer humour.

The pen name is necessary because of the diversity between the genres in which I write. Some years ago, Crooked Cat published three of my thrillers, but at my insistence they put them out under my real name, and because everyone knew me for my humour, they didn’t sell. The publication rights to the titles reverted to me, and they’re now written by Robert Devine.

The initial mistake was mine, not Crooked Cat’s. And yet, despite their poor performance, they still generated a small, dedicated audience, and there have been demands for more of the same. Indeed, Steph Patterson, an old friend, the lady who, along with her husband Laurence, runs Crooked Cat, said only last week that she would look forward to another tale involving developed and hero, Felix Croft, and while David Robinson is looking to extend the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, Robert Devine is working on the next Croft title.

These thrillers are not for the fainthearted. They look into the darkest corners of man’s mind, examining the depths to which men – and women – will sink in order to gratify their needs. They pull no punches. They contain graphic sex and violence, and the language reflects Great Britain today. From certain points of view, they border on horror, but none of the language, violence or sex is gratuitous. Every scene serves a purpose, and indeed, when it came to revising the texts before republication, I actually eliminated certain scenes which had no relevance to the remainder of the tale.

The first two Croft novels , Dominus and The Power, hinge upon a true story from pre-war Germany. Known only as the Heidelberg Case, The Power contains many fictionalised scenes from that period clear up to Great Britain in the 1970s/.

So what is the Heidelberg Case?

I first read the story in a book by Colin Wilson, the title of which completely escapes me. I came across it again in a book by Robert Temple, entitled ‘Open to Suggestion’, a copy of which still sits on my bookshelf.

At the time, I was writing for television, and I promptly set about developing a TV series based on the premise of the Heidelberg Case. Working with Devon-based production company, I spent the better part of a year putting together a six-hour TV serial, which we then pitched to Central TV.

We didn’t get the deal. That script formed the basis of the Handshaker novel, and I spent a number of years working intermittently on it, and submitting it to various publishers. It was rejected at every turn. Nothing strange about that. There are many fine novelists out there who were never picked up by the big publishing houses, and were it not for the advent of the self-publishing revolution, I’m sure many of them would still be wallowing in total obscurity.

And it was that revolution which brought about the eventual publication of The Handshaker, and its sequel The Deep Secret.

So what was it about the Heidelberg Case which made it so intriguing? Stay with me and I’ll give you an overview of the case.

In 1927 a woman only ever identified as Mrs E was travelling by train from her home to Heidelberg where she would have treatment for a stomach complaint, when she chance to meet a man who introduced himself as Doctor Bergen.

The train stopped to take on water, and the Doctor invited Mrs E to join him for coffee. And then, without warning, he took her hand, stared her in the eye, and from that moment on Mrs E lost all will of her own.

The tale moves on seven years, to 1934 when Mrs E’s husband, a minor official in Heidelberg, complained to the police of a doctor who had been defrauding his wife of many thousands of marks. She was referred to the care of Doctor Ludwig Meyer, who hypnotised her and uncovered the most astonishing tale.

When he took her hand, Doctor Bergen had induced a state of deep hypnosis almost instantaneously and without saying a word, and over the next seven years he proceeded to abuse her at an almost unprecedented level. Aside from using her for his own gratification, he sold her into prostitution, and when her husband refused to pay his bill, he inflicted painful punishments upon her until payment was made.

With her husband’s complaint to the police, Bergen began to worry for his own safety, and he decided that the husband would have to die. He gave Mrs E a white powder, which he said she should mix into his food, but the husband did not die. He merely became ill. Bergen told her that her husband was a danger to her, and that she should take a pistol and shoot him. As luck would have it, Mr E, concerned for his wife’s erratic behaviour, had removed the bullets a few days earlier. Next Bergen persuaded her that her husband’s motorcycle was unsafe, and she should tighten the brakes. He told her how to do this, but in fact, he was telling how to loosen them. Likewise once again on the side of Mr E. His motorcycle crashed, but he survived with only minor injuries.

Altogether, Mrs E made six attempts on her husband’s life, and eventually Bergen decided that Mrs E herself must die. He persuaded that she was terminally ill and the best way to avoid a long, slow and tortuous death, was to throw herself under a train. Fortunately, she got into conversation with a woman on the station platform, and the idea left her. Next, Bergen persuaded her that she should drown herself, but Mr E, once again seriously concerned for his wife’s mental health, had the housemaid followed her into the river.

Bergen was identified as Franz Walter, a homoeopath. In 1936, he and his accomplice were put on trial. Walter received 12 years at hard labour, and the accomplice got four.

That is a brief overview of the Heidelberg Case. From Robert Temple’s book, I learned that it was first documented by Swiss psychiatrist, Heinze Hammerschlag in a book entitled Hypnotism and Crime, translated into English and first published in 1955. Hammerschlag’s account was based on Ludwig Meyer’s original notes which ran to about 1000 pages.

It took some doing, but I eventually tracked down a copy of Hammerschlag’s book, and although it contains an account and analysis of the case, there are many aspects which are not covered in any detail, and the first question we must ask is, was anything lost in translation?

The case is captivating for a number of reasons. One of the basic tenets of hypnotism is the subject cannot be made to carry out any action which would go against his or her general moral standards. The faithful and dutiful wife would never climb into bed with another man, and would certainly never sell herself. The ordinary, decent citizen, would never commit murder, and yet Mrs E made half a dozen, documented attempts on her husband’s life.

If we accept the principle that a hypnotised subject would never breach his/her moral standards, how do we account for her actions?

Those people who make a study of the paranormal also latched onto this business of Walter taking her hand, staring her in the eye, and instantly hypnotising her into a deep state.

I have some hypnosis training, although I’m by no means an expert. Every competent hypnotist, whether a stage performer or therapist, will tell you that this is simply impossible. It’s akin to mind telepathy, mind control, and it belongs in the realms of science fiction.

The story also tells us that Walter, described as a skilled hypnotist and completely amoral, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Did he serve that sentence?

Remember, this was 1936. The Nazis had been in power for three years, war was looming. Would the German intelligence services, confronted with a man possessed of such power, leave him rotting in jail? Or would they draft him into their ranks; the ultimate interrogator?

For any writer of fiction, there are so many aspects to this tale which make for a great mystery.

Set in the modern day, the story of Dominus sees a serial killer seeking to emulate and surpass the efforts of Franz Walter. The Power draws further on the Heidelberg Case, but with the discovery of a handwritten manuscript, it does so much more. Also set in the here and now, a fast-paced, unrelenting series of brutal killings, with Croft and his friend Millie Matthews close on the heels of the killer, the story takes us in flashbacks to those days in 1920s and 1930s Germany, and brings us through the dark days of World War II, and into the emerging freedom of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

You can find more extensive links to both books on the My books page.

That’s all for this time. Next time, we’ll look at possible alternative explanations for what happened to Mrs E.

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The Power & The Pain

I’ve been very ill these last few days. It’s mostly self-inflicted. I smoke too much, which aggravates my breathing problems, and although I’m diabetic, I don’t keep a close enough eye on my diet.

While lolling around the settee in a pale imitation of Camille, I had time to think. Truth be told, that’s all I could do. I’ve never felt so manky. And while I was contemplating the ills of the world and the Web, I thought how curious it is that a simple comment can change your whole attitude.

In last week’s post I mentioned a title, The Deep Secret, first published by Crooked Cat in 2013, and how I’d decided to drop it. I didn’t give a reason, and Steph Patterson, who with her husband Laurence, runs Crooked Cat, asked why I’d abandoned it.

The Deep Secret came about as a result of a challenge. Could I write a novel in a week? Well, yes, I could. I turned out 60,000 words in seven days (now you might see why I don’t do nanowrimo). From there, I developed the tale and the result was The Deep Secret.

Steph had considerable input on the project. Born and raised in Heidelberg (please forgive me if I got that wrong, Steph) she helped with the setting and she was responsible for the German phrases I used. A necessary expedient since my German is worse than my French and Spanish, and they’re limited to ordering tea and toast.

The truth is I never felt The Deep Secret was up to the mark, but in deference to Steph’s query, I dug out the original manuscript and read it again. It was a revelation, and a testament to Crooked Cat’s vision. It is actually, quite good (that’s a personal opinion, and since I’m my biggest critic, it probably says something about the work). It needed some attention, so I’ve spent the last week working my way through it, trimming words here and there, cutting out unnecessary speech tags, and I deleted an entire section which was completely irrelevant, and probably part of the original ‘novel in a week’ challenge.

The result is The Power, which is now live and available on Amazon (check out my books page).

My thanks go to Steph for this. Without her simple query, it would never have happened.

In republishing this tale, it presents me with another problem. I now have two titles with Felix Croft and Millie Matthews chasing the bad guys, and one with Wes Deakin and Sam Feyer.

That is not a problem per se, but the similarities between the four characters could be, especially the lack of contrast between Croft and Deakin. Both come from privileged backgrounds, both are counsellors and hypnotherapists, both are head of department in their relative colleges, both have lost someone close to them, both ally themselves with police inspectors (a chief inspector in Deakin’s case) and the only marked difference is the question of whether Deakin was personally responsible for his wife’s murder.

Should I change things?

For the time being, the answer is no. It’s a matter I’ll judge in the near future. There are sufficient differences to validate both scenarios.

In the meantime, there are now four books on sale, and you can catch up with them on the my books page.

And don’t forget, if you want to keep ahead of the game, you can register for my newsletter, HERE

That’s all for now. I’m going to take another dollop of jollop, then go back to the settee and carry on pretending I’m Camille.

Who is Robert Devine?

Well, he’s me, obviously.

Much of my work is published under my real name, David Robinson, and is quite light-hearted. Working with Crooked Cat Books I’ve published no less than 16 titles in the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries. In addition I’ve put out a number of self-published titles, all of them blatantly humorous. The STAC Mysteries are cosy crime and like my other work, they’re laced with chuckles. It has to be said that they were very successful.

But there’s another side to me, a side that likes to look at the dark side of human nature, the capacity of some people to commit acts of inhuman savagery. To satisfy that curiosity, I put out two thrillers with Crooked Cat: The Handshaker and The Deep Secret. There’s a third facet to my character, one that likes to look at the esoteric; themes which border on science fiction, other ideas which carry mankind into space, Taking with him his natural tendency towards violence and war. A part of that emerged in a novel entitled Voices, again published by Crooked Cat.

They did not sell. The few reviews they garnered were positive, but it didn’t matter what I tried, I could not sell these books, and it took me a while to realise why.

At my insistence, Crooked Cat published them under my real name, and people would visit the book page on Amazon, then promptly shift focus to the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries.

When the contracts were up, I asked Crooked Cat to return the publishing rights to me. I completely abandoned The Deep Secret, and I republished The Handshaker under the title Dominus, and Voices under the title Ghosts. But I did so under a pseudonym, Robert Devine. There’s no point asking me where I got the pen name from. I can’t remember, but both books were published in the spring of this year, 2018.

I did not publicise them. They were, after all, older titles, republished with different covers. I did a little editing, but aside from that, nothing had changed in them.

I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember and I’ve been writing full-length fiction for the last 25 years. It’s only since the advent of e-books that I’ve had the opportunity to get my work out.

I love churning out humour. I’m that kind of man; one who can see the funny side of everything. But, even so, the dark side needs an outlet, and Robert Devine provides me with the necessary channel.

With the publication of my third RD novel, The Frame, it’s now time to let the world know that Robert Devine is here.

The Frame has taken a comparatively long time to produce. Because I dictate my work directly under computer screen, I usually work very quickly, but I had any number of problems with this title. I tried using the character Felix Croft (from Dominus) as the protagonist, but for a number of reasons it didn’t work. He’s too easy-going for the kind of hard-line thrillers I had in mind. I also wanted a strong, female lead, and Millie Matthews (again from Dominus) didn’t quite fit the bill.

In the end I came up with ex-army officer, Wes Deakin, and Detective Chief Inspector Samantha Feyer, and placed them in a critical situation in the fictional town of Havensby, on the Yorkshire coast. Attentive readers will realise that Havensby bears a startling resemblance to Scarborough. Hardly surprising, since it’s based on Scarborough.

With the characters and location in place, I began to write in earnest, and Robert Devine published his first original novel a couple of days ago.

They’ll be more from Feyer and Deakin. I’m already working on the next title, Substitute, and I hope to have in place early in the New Year.

So there you have it. Now you know who Robert Devine is. Why not pop over to the My Books page and check out his works.

You can also sign up for my newsletter. I’m not going to bribe you with offers of free books. By the same token I’m not going to bombard you with emails every other day. But I’m in the process of planning a monthly newsletter to bring you up to speed on the characters, the locations, forthcoming titles new releases, and there will be the occasional special offer exclusive to newsletter subscribers. You can find the link at the top of the page.