The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator)

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The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator)

Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: In revisiting this well-known author in his less-famous crime clothes, Pushkin Vertigo find a snappily-dressed gent knowing just what he can and cannot get away with.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782273417

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We're in rural, rainy, wintery Switzerland soon after the Second World War. A man has been found on a remote mountain road. It would appear he opened his car door to someone who proceeded to shoot him dead. Leading the investigation is Inspector Barlach, an elderly and it seems chronically ill policeman, who has no fondness for new-fangled ideas of criminology, but he has employed Tschanz to do his leg-work for him – Tschanz who seems much more keen to find evidence and to share it, and not rely on gut instincts. Neither particularly want to be out in all weathers sorting the crime, but the victim was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time, for he was a fellow policeman and nobody knows why he was there – or if they do they aren't saying. What had he been up to, and which way of policing the case will get to the answers first?

It's good to see the words an Inspector Barlach mystery adorn the front of this book, even if there are only two such volumes – for one, Durrenmatt wrote four crime novels and we've already had one of those. For one thing, Barlach and his tummy troubles don't easily convince you he would have survived to feature in any more books, but in this day and age we almost have to expect our investigators to have some kind of mental or physical problem before they're even started. I don't know enough about the history of crime writing to know when they began to be so flawed – but what I do know is that Durrenmatt was quite happy to subvert the crime-writing genre from within, so whether the edge of a physically crooked cop was new or not, there is a frisson here that things might not always be as they seem.

Unfortunately, the strongest sense of that comes with the intervention of a writer, leaving both cops to wonder whether they'd be in his next book. Hmmm… But the fact remains that that section, however annoying, archly 'different' and unnecessary, comes in between a host of short snappy scenes (we have over twenty chapters in these 120 pages), and a lot of them do what is very much the right thing as regards crime writing. By the end you've certainly found much that is very enjoyable. Characters that are not doing what you expect them to do – both in and out of regard to the genre norm, certain people having their strengths hidden from us, and a very pleasing briskness to the timeline all make this a very solid entertainment.

The scholar can pick over this, as they would do Durrenmatt's classic plays, and see this writing as being about the follies of man, that about something else, and a whole sort of literary emphasis. But knowing this publishing house, and their predilection for no-nonsense entertainment, preferably in short and sweet portions, I think we need not let that bother us ourselves. Yes, there is a look at the nature of man behind a lot of the events here, but so there should be in any crime story of note. But there should also be that fun element, the factor that we employ this genre for in the first place, and that is definitely on these pages. I eagerly await the sequel.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Brevity is the soul of Miraculous Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor) too – a selection of locked room and other dramas from a lovely crime imprint also bringing lost corpses back to life, as it were.

Buy The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator) at Amazon.com.


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