14 April 2014


  • consists of two novellas: The Judge and His Hangman (1950) and Suspicion (1951)
  • this edition published by University of Chicago Press 2006
  • Translated by Joel Agee with foreword by Sven Birketts
  • 209 pages
  • ISBN 9-780226-17440
  • Source: my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

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. 

My take

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.

My rating: 4.5

See a review on The Game's Afoot.


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Hmmm...certainly an interesting take on the genre. Perhaps it really even is genre-blending. Reminds me just a hint of Stanislaw Lem's work.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie, tahnks for the link. I believe Dürrenmatt introduces new aspects into the genre, for that alone his detective novels are quite interesting. Have just finished The Pledge and really like it.

Martin Edwards said...

Glad to read this review. I came across these books when I was studying Durrenmatt as part of my German course at school. He was probably best known for his plays, but his crime stories are distinctive and genuinely interesting, I think.

Anne H said...

There is an excellent American movie of The Pledge. It's definitely an art-house effort and a labour of love. It has a first class cast, directed by jack Nicholson, I think.


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