Wild Maneuvers

Judith Keller

German, Luchterhand Literaturverlag, Munich, 2023, 2023

“You and an unidentified woman have been accused of stealing a white Mercedes van from the car park of the Glatt Shopping Centre on 30th July at 9.30 pm.”

“30th July, you say? Let me think. So much has happened since then. It wouldn’t be impossible.”

“But I don’t want to say it was just about the money. It was more about the meaning that was attached to the money. I don’t think that I’ve properly explained it. I’ll have to come back to it later, please remind me. There was something about the meaning.”

A spree of curious crimes are committed on a hot summer’s night in Zurich. Two women, Vera Savakis and Peli Rouge, are suspected of the wrongdoings. Judith Keller’s novel “Wild Manoeuvre” is an entertaining search for answers – witty and profound.

A van full of cocaine is stolen from the car park of the Glatt Shopping Centre in Zurich. In Oberwindish in Aargau garden chairs and plaster statues disappear from gardens, a horse is kidnapped and reappears in the veterinary hospital in Zurich, and at Hardbrücke train station a neatly arranged circle of bikes is found on the tracks.

The two women, Vera Savakis and Peli Rouge, appear to be the connection between these curious crimes. They are the suspects. Seven recordings of policeman Felix Lombardi’s interrogation of Vera Savakis draw a picture of the events. Vera proves to be an unconventional and uncooperative interviewee. She tells meandering tales instead of directly answering the police. She asks questions, distorts facts and shows no sign of a guilty conscience for the crimes, to which she partially admits but then also appears to know nothing about.

The events take place on 30th July, a hot summer’s afternoon that the two women spent on Schwamendingerplatz in Zurich. Both women have stopped working and paying their rent on account of a feeling – as Vera testifies. On Schwamendingerplatz, the pair are struck by the feeling that there’s no return and they still have much left to do. Seemingly they allow themselves to be led by the signs they perceive around them, for example, cranes showing them which direction to take. Again and again, they challenge the events and their actions, which appear to simply happen to them rather than the women actively committing them. Driven by a chain of events, with one thing leading to another, they carry on. They drift through the centre of Zurich and the surrounding districts, meet a wide variety of people, philosophise, quarrel, loose and find themselves again. At the end of the interrogation, Vera Savakis disappears mysteriously from the interrogation room and Policeman Felix Lombardi is fired as a result.

The two protagonists break all societal conventions and act in an unpredictable manner. Just as Vera evades the expectations of the interrogation, the writing also plays with the readers’ expectations of a crime novel. Against common-place, seemingly unpoetic backdrops, Judith Keller makes curious and absurd things happen. Policeman Lombardi and Vera’s conversation is dripping with amusing snippets. At the same time, Judith Keller’s novel effortlessly addresses the big issues of truth and lies, societal structures and constraints, the interpretation of signs and the search for meaning.

Text by Martina Keller

Wilde Manöver
Luchterhand Literaturverlag, Munich, 2023
Translation rights
Gesche Wendebourg, gesche.wendebourg@penguinrandomhouse.de
Publication date
September 2023


Judith Keller

Judith Keller, born in Switzerland in 1985, studied creative writing in Leipzig and Biel, and qualified as a German language teacher in Berlin and Bogotá. She has also been an editor at the literary journal Edit. She has won honorary awards from the city and canton of Zurich for her story collection “Die Fragwürdigen” (“The Questionable Ones”).

Photo: © Ayse Yavas