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The Inspector Barlach Mysteries by Friedrich…

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (Author)

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    Malice: A Mystery by Keigo Higashino (charl08)
    charl08: Clever crime in translation.

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Two slim novellas that try to push the novel-of-ideas into the frame of classic detective fiction. It didn't really work for me. As genre fiction they're unsuccessful – the set-ups are extremely implausible and both stories rely heavily on dei ex machina – so the stories stand or fall on the ideas in play, which have to do with the nature of good and evil and the perfectibility of human nature.

The second piece, Suspicion, is the more successful, because realism is abandoned so completely that you feel permitted to ignore the plot and concentrate on the themes. At the same time, the pages are kept turning by the insane melodrama: a mad Nazi doctor, a gigantic wandering Jew, a drug-addicted sadistic nurse, etc etc. For me, the main interest came in the details of Swiss life, both the descriptive passages and the psychic questioning over Swiss involvement in the 1939–45 war. Some of this is picked up in Sven Birkerts's rather grandiose introduction (‘having come of age in the long Walpurgisnacht of World War II, and then nourished on the bitter milk of postwar existentialism…’), which sets Dürrenmatt in context well. Joel Agee's English translation is solid and sounds very natural, with enough flashes of German left in to convey flavour – a minor plot point in the second book turns on the Bernese pronunciation of Miuchmauchterli (a Swiss German word for a milking-stool, though this is not explained in the text). Only thing I'm not quite sure of is why he changed Inspector Bärlach's name to Barlach; I'm sure most English readers aren't scared of a couple of umlauts.

Overall I was left unsatisfied, but other readers may well get more out of this than I did. ( )
  Widsith | Jul 23, 2014 |
Inspector Barlach is nearing the end of his life, terminally ill with a stomach complaint. In the first novella The Judge and His Hangman a policeman is found murdered. He was last seen, working undercover, at a party being given by a criminal whom Barlach has been trying to convict all of his life. However Barlach is pretty sure that his old enemy is not responsible for the murder and he involves the suspect in the investigation.

In Suspicion Barlach is in hospital awaiting an operation to prolong his life when his doctor recognises a Nazi war criminal in a photo in Life magazine. Barlach decides to put his own life on the line by entering a clinic run by the war criminal. It is a close run thing, but Barlach gets some timely assistance from an unlikely source.

Although these novellas are police procedurals, there's quite a different flavour to them to more modern novels. In the foreword Sven Birketts says Dürrenmatt "comes very close to abandoning the realist conventions of the genre". Again he says Dürrenmatt is "a moralist/philosopher by temperament", and there is certainly a lot more philosophical discussion in both novellas than we would expect to find in a modern police procedural. This does tend to make for slower reading. ( )
  smik | Apr 13, 2014 |
Only: The Judge and His Hangmanby [author: Friedrich Dürrenmatt translated by Joel Agee
4 stars
This short novella, by Swiss playwright and author, Friedrich Dürrenmatt features the ailing Inspector Barlach in this crime fiction that is not only entertaining but thought provoking. A police officer is found shot and dead in his car at the side of the road. There is an ancient wager between old friends. The nihilist and the moralist. It is a chess game to the end. I highly recommend this quick read of less than 100 pages if you like crime fiction.
( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
The first of these two novellas, The Judge and His Hangman, is excellent. Reads like one of the best noirs I've ever seen. Just a masterful translation. The second is decent, though more play-like and has less of the landscape descriptions that make the first so enjoyable. On this latter point, I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy's dark and beautiful prose. Also the use of genre for broader purposes, without losing sight of the appeal of the genre to begin with. ( )
  Carl_Hayes | Mar 30, 2013 |
These stories are perhaps not as good as The Pledge - which is one of the most chilling stories of obsession I've ever read, and I am amazed noone's turned into film, because it seems obvious film material. However, The Judge and his Hangman is similarly obsessive and creepy, but Suspicion doesn't quite work for me. Although the premise of the story - Barlach discovers the identity of a war criminal working in a Swiss hospital and has himself checked into the hospital to confront him - is fine, there are too many deus ex machina moments, and the conclusion seems unlikely. I realise that Durrenmatt is not interested in the police procedural per se, but uses it as a way of expressing ideas about Swiss society and its lack of willingness to face up to uncomfortable truths, but still, if you use that format, then you need to take it to a sensible conclusion for the genre and for me, Suspicion doesn't do that. The Judge and His Hangman is highly recommended and if you haven't read The Pledge, you really should ( )
  Opinionated | Jan 28, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226174441, Paperback)

This volume offers bracing new translations of two precursors to the modern detective novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, whose genre-bending mysteries recall the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet and anticipate the postmodern fictions of Paul Auster and other contemporary neo-noir novelists. Both mysteries follow Inspector Barlach as he moves through worlds in which the distinction between crime and justice seems to have vanished. In The Judge and His Hangman, Barlach forgoes the arrest of a murderer in order to manipulate him into killing another, more elusive criminal. And in Suspicion, Barlach pursues a former Nazi doctor by checking into his clinic with the hope of forcing him to reveal himself. The result is two thrillers that bring existential philosophy and the detective genre into dazzling convergence. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:43 -0400)

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