A podcast about writers who may or may not have written about crime, but who definitely committed it.
S3E1: Lucky Hans
Early morning October 17, 1911. Two teenagers climb a hill outside of Leipzig, Germany with the intention of killing each other in a duel. Rudolph Ditzen fires his gun and hits his mark but his friend Hans misses. Ditzen turns the gun on himself but survives and stumbles down the hill covered in blood. Years later Rudolph Ditzen will publish his first novel under the pseudonym Hans Fallada. By then he’d already killed a man, attempted to kill himself a number of times and been institutionalized nearly as many. His new name will go on to acquire just as much ignominy as the old one: multiple jail stints for theft and embezzlement, another attempted murder charge, and constant visits to sanatoriums for alcohol and morphine addiction. But Hans Fallada will also be responsible for publishing some of the greatest novels about life in Germany before, during and after the Second World War.
S3E2: A Thoroughly Degenerate Psychopath
After spending less than two years in a posh sanatorium as punishment for the death of his friend, Fallada is released. Though he has few skills apart from writing and a murder charge on his record, the beginning of WWI means that there’s plenty of work for those who stay home. Fallada gets a job in an agricultural estate where he becomes an expert at working with tubers. He also works hard to become an expert cognac drinker, solicitor of sex and morphine user. These things cost money and in order to finance his budding addictions he steals from the estate and ends up in jail. Then he gets out, steals again and goes back. The discipline and routine of prison is good for Hans and he spends his years of incarceration honing his writing skills…
S3E3: All Men Are Cowards
In 1932 Hans Fallada releases his big hit, Little Man, What Now? a somewhat autobiographical novel about a young middle-class family trying to survive in an age of mass unemployment and hyperinflation. As The novel can be read as an indictment of the Weimar Republic, the Nazi’s spare it when they take power and begin mass book burnings in April 1933. But to stay in print Fallada agrees to change the novel’s highly unsympathetic Nazi character into a “footballer.” In his next novel, Once a Jailbird, he bends to pressure to write a forward saying that the inhumane justice system described in the novel is now, thankfully, a thing of the past - thanks to the Nazi’s. Doubly ironic because at the time he writes this forward, he’s already been a Nazi prisoner and will most definitely be one again…
S3E4: Desperate Literature
Fallada hunkers down on his farm where he plans to wait out the war writing and tending to his vegetable garden in sobriety. But the bomber jets buzzing overhead and the Nazi censors who only allow him to publish idyllic “memoirs” of his country life prove too much for him. He retreats to the bottle and descends into an alcoholic madness in which he brandishes a gun at his now ex-wife Suze. The incident lands him in a Nazi psychiatric hospital which he chronicles in a novel entitled The Drinker. He also writes a memoir about his life in the Third Reich with the belief that both the war and the nightmare he’s been living in since the Nazi’s took power will soon be over. He’s right about the first part, but not the second…
S3E5: The Nightmare
On April 8th, 1943 Otto and Elise Hampel, a working class couple from Berlin, are guillotined for leaving hundreds of postcards containing anti-Nazi messages in public places throughout the city. They, and their small everyday acts of futile resistance, are in many ways the opposite of Hans Fallada who continues to do just enough to appease the Nazi’s in order to survive under their regime. If anything he sees the Hampel’s deaths as proof that his capitulations to Nazi demands were the right course. But after the Third Reich falls and Fallada is forced to try to survive in bombed-out Berlin without money or food and with a new wife (who is also hopelessly addicted to morphine) it's the Hampels’ story that he turns to to write the first novel about domestic resistance to the Nazi’s. He writes the 550 page novel in 24 days. It’s an absolute masterpiece, and it kills him…
S2Ep1: A Shave and a Shag
One morning in 1949 Kenneth Halliwell comes downstairs for breakfast and finds his father’s dead body awkwardly protruding from the stove. He turns off the gas, then steps over the body to boil water for tea. When he finishes his tea, he shaves and calls the neighbors to report his father’s suicide. Nearly two decades later, when Joe Orton’s mother dies, his response is to pick up an Irish laborer and screw him in a derelict house. Joe and Kenneth have different ways of coping with their parents' deaths, but as young men growing up in dreary industrial England, they both have the same dream: before either considers writing, they’re both convinced that they belong on the stage. In 1951 they buy one-way tickets to London and begin a journey that will fail to bring them any success as actors but that will lead them to each other. Episode 1 chronicles the bleak childhoods that shape the pair inspiring one of them to become the most iconoclastic English dramatist of the 1960s, and the other to become a murderer…
I was surprised at how engaging this podcast was. Really absorbing and I look forward to season 2.
Great Idea Ruined
A great idea for a podcast ruined by hosts that believe they are more witty, funny and smarter than everyone in the room. It’s tiresome after five minutes.
Penknife Season 1
Just finished listening to the last episode of Penknife. An amazing amount of research, writing and performing went into this podcast.
I highly recommend it.
I have listened to many crime podcasts and this one is not one that repeats, repeats, repeats. It constantly moves forward and fleshes out new stories about the writers who behave badly.
Excited for season 2!