The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt and John E Woods (translator)

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The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt and John E Woods (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: With these contents, you don't need me to tell you the author despised formulaic thrillers that stuck to tried-and-tested rules. Which, with his scenario, is a shame.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: January 2018
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782273875

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It's 1957, and we're somewhere in Switzerland, and there's just one case on everyone's lips – the simple fact that a politician has gone into the crowded room of one of those 'the place to go' restaurants, and point-blank shot a professor everyone there must have known and ferried a British companion to the airport in his chauffeur-driven Rolls before handing himself in to face the murder rap. Of course, he's found guilty, even if the gun involved has managed to disappear. He's certainly of much interest, not only to our narrator, a young lawyer called Spaet – even if he rarely gets to frequent such establishments with such people, he is eager to know more, especially once he is actually tasked by the man in hand to look into things a second time. But what's this, where he opens his testimony about the affair with the conclusion, that he himself will need to turn killer to redress the balance?

This is an intriguing case for the crime fan – the complete opposite to the locked room mystery. Everyone can see it was definitely a case of murder, a police commandant was present at the time, for crying out loud – and doubt is nowhere to be seen. No, no motive is known, but then none is needed, beyond the sanity of the criminal and the legality of imprisoning him. Once in prison, he declares there's no need for an appeal case to be tried, as everything was above board first time, and anyway, he seems to be deeming life behind bars some kind of boon. So what on earth can there be for our narrator Spaet to do?

Well, unfortunately, he certainly has too much time on his hands. He can write pleasantly enough, but he also decides his task in reporting the whole affair is to go into all the minutiae about context and background he deems relevant, which are too many. There are chunks of this book unfortunately delivered in two-page long paragraphs that make you think you're reading an encyclopaedia. I know, however (this being a Durrenmatt book), that that is kind of the point – but it has to be said.

And there's always a 'point' to Durrenmatt books – he never delivers a straight genre piece without tweaking the formula of it, discussing an authorial approach, or in this case going into very dense further thoughts, that do flash a small light on to the actual (meaty, enjoyable, expected) crime scenario, but also hide in the darkness of dense writing. We've always been sure here at The Bookbag to flag a book up as a 'literary fiction' when it tends to be that, and this is a case in point – yes it will be on the crime/thriller shelf, but it is a 'literary' example – certainly, when the narrator delves into a ten- or twelve-page paragraph we're in a realm where style has overtaken substance in importance. The problem for me at this crux point was not so much the density of the script, but the fact that the blurb was more convincing than the actual book as to what Spaet was actually doing.

This book, in the end, isn't heinously unreadable, but I can't see it winning universal favour whatsoever; it, more so even than the author's other more experimental reads, will be for genre specialists only.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Crime books are a different beast these days - The Chalk Man by C J Tudor being one of the better, darker ones. You might also enjoy Into Dust by Jonathan Lewis.

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Buy The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt and John E Woods (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt and John E Woods (translator) at Amazon.com.

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