About ten years ago I saw an impressive, if sombre, film, The Pledge, which starred Jack Nicholson and was directed by Sean Penn. It's a dark tale in which a policeman is called to one last case on the day before he retires. It is the murder of a child and Nicholson's character, moved by an impassioned plea from the child's mother, makes a solemn pledge to find the killer. Becoming more and more obsessed with the quest, he eventually takes up with a younger woman with a child of around the same age as murdered child and - you can probably guess where this is going. What I didn't know was that the screenwriters had drawn on Friedrich Durrenmatt's novel of the same name. I wrote about Durrenmatt's THE QUARRY, a couple of blogs ago. Well, I went on to read THE PLEDGE (first published in the UK in 1959) and then THE JUDGE AND THE HANGMAN (1954), and what extraordinary books these are. Neither of them are very long, but what a powerful punch they pack and what complex moral dilemmas they explore. The plot of the book is pretty close to the film, but we know from early on that the child the detective has more or less adopted does survive. What we don't know is how the story will play out and if the murderer will be caught. THE JUDGE AND THE HANGMAN is just as compelling and I was constantly surprised and wrong-footed by the plot twists and forced to shift my moral ground, too. As in THE QUARRY Durrenmatt explores question of guilt, moral contamination, and how far the end justifies the means. No-one put it better than Nietzsche. 'He who fights with monsters might take care lest he become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.' On a lighter note, I wonder if I am the only person who thinks of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, whenever they see a sign saying 'Heavy Plant Crossing.'