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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