lunes, 13 de junio de 2011

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman + Suspicion

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman + Suspicion [Der Richter und sein Henker and Der Verdacht] (The University of Chicago Press, 2006)
by Friedrich Dürrenmatt [translated from the German by Joel Agee]
Switzerland, 1950 & 1951

Can't remember where/how I first heard about the Swiss Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), but anonymous props to whoever it was who turned me on to the guy.  Whilst The Judge and His Hangman, about a serial killer who's conducted a lifelong game of cat and mouse with the now terminally ill Inspector Barlach, and Suspicion, about a Nazi doctor who's taken his sadistic delight in anesthesia-free surgery out of the concentration camps and into postwar private practice incognito, both contain over the top moments that will test your credulity, the two novellas are also absolutely feral examples of the crime genre--the twist here being that in addition to Ellroy-like pacing and cynicism a good 30 years before their time, you also get a probing examination of the nature of good vs. evil and man's inhumanity to man in both.  Not that God gets off the hook either--as one character bluntly remarks in the second work, "Jehovah was far away, preoccupied with other worlds, or maybe some theological problem was claiming his sublime intelligence, in any case his people were enthusiastically hounded to death, gassed or shot, depending on the mood of the SS, or on the weather: the east wind meant hangings, and the west wind meant now was the time to set dogs on Judah" (127).  Brutal.  (www.press.uchicago.edu)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

13 comentarios:

  1. I have read both a long time ago, at school. He isn't exactly my favourite Swiss writer but I seem to remember both books were on my mind for quite a while. It didn't really occur to me that they were crime novels. It is about crime, agreed, and there is a detective but apart from that... I think he wrote them because he needed the money.

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  2. Well, doesn't that one sound like fun? Perhaps for a different mood than my current one. And I hate the cover design. Let's just say it lacks restraint right down to the font choices. But I am glad you enjoyed it. Truly. :)

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  3. ". . . sadistic delight in anesthesia-free surgery . . ."

    I AM NEVER READING THIS.

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  4. I read Dürrenmatt's The Assignment a couple of years ago, and thought it was a very interesting experiment (each chapter is one extended sentence - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't). Sounds like all three novellas share some interesting preoccupations. The Assignment was similarly brutal as well as being obsessed with the concept of observation and how the act of observing affects the observed thing. It comes off as a little bit dated since those questions have come front-and-center during the interim, but still worth a read. I've been meaning to get to the Inspector Barlach novellas for a while, so thanks for the reminder!

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  5. *Caroline: I had a feeling you were familiar with Dürrenmatt! Although the crime novel aspects seemed placed front and center to me, I can understand them maybe not seeming like that in a way to a reader more intrigued by The Seventh Seal style elements involving chance and chess and death and mortality. And what you say about Dürrenmatt having written these because he needed the money makes perfect sense given that I read somewhere else that he wasn't really a fan of the mystery per se; however, that makes the visceral results he achieved within the genre he disdained even more impressive to me somehow. A strange and strong brew if you ask me!

    *Frances: Ha ha, I get that Dürrenmatt might not exactly be "the people's choice" or, as you say, at least not right for every mood! However, I suspect that you MIGHT enjoy him for his writing, which in combination with his pacing was quite bracing here (unlike the typo-ridden "proofreading"--tsk tsk for the academic press involved). Re: the cover, I was actually laughing at the contrast it provided with 99% of the other covers I see while bloghopping: unsubtle yes, but a necessary corrective in my book!

    *E.L. Fay: I'm not sure why, but I'm rather tickled that a book that I basically raved about has provoked such a negative reaction in a reader not named Jill from Rhapsody in Books. Maybe my writing is more complex than I'd ever realized! :D

    *Emily: Despite the subject matter, the Inspector Barlach mysteries can be zipped through in no time at all. Exemplars of pacing with a stubborn humanistic streak that lends a necessary counterweight to the overall pessimism. Thanks for the info about The Assignment, one of a couple of other Dürrenmatt titles that sound enticing enough for a read somewhere down the line. What a weird and interesting character he seems to have been w/r/t the forcefulness of his prose and the deliberations of his craft! P.S. Hope you have some time to enjoy your book haul from France before you have to return to work!

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  6. aware of him but yet to read him richard ,another name on the endless list of people to read ,all the best stu

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  7. *Stu: In terms of that never-ending list, at least these two novellas are quick reads/ways to see if you want to read more by the author. Cheers!

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  8. I am glad to know you know what I think even if I don't even make a comment on it!

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  9. *Jill: I don't like to brag about it, but I do have a PhD in ESP, you know! P.S. Too lazy to send this comment to you telepathically tonight, though. :(

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  10. That sounds like a difficult read - I have read many books about the Holocaust but this one seems to have a unique angle on it. I have never heard of the author before

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  11. It was me. I reviewed these two not that long ago, two or three years. Glad you enjoyed them.

    I wish there were more Barlach mysteries. He's as interesting a detective character as Simenon's Inspector Maigret was. Still, there are these two available in English at least.

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  12. I read five of his books a while ago, included these two (and these two were probably, in my opinion, the best). - One of the others was also a detective story (in fact, was the basis of the Jack Nicholson film The Pledge). Another was a Kafkaesque story about a man working in an office who kept getting mysteriously promoted. The fifth book I forget.

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  13. *Tom: The second novella approaches the Holocaust in such an interesting way that even though it ends up asking tough questions about culpability (like in that quote I pulled) the difficulties are more philosophical in nature rather than tough to read about somehow. I'm not sure I can explain it, but I enjoyed watching the author wrestle with the subject matter in what seemed such a personal manner.

    *C.B. James: I actually saw that you had reviewed these after I read them, but I'm glad we agreed on them whether or not you were indeed the mystery man who turned me on to Dürrenmatt (great minds think alike and all that). I'm [embarrassed mumble, mumble] woefully behind the curve on Simenon, though, and haven't even made time to read the one NYRB title I picked up by him a couple of years ago or so. By the way, apologies to you and Tom above for the delay in my replies to the both of you (had a rough week at work which dragged over to my play).

    *Obooki: Based on what you and Emily have shared and my own enjoyment of these two novellas, I look forward to reading more Dürrenmatt probably sometime next year. Am not familiar with that Nicholson film, but I love his early work and am probably overdue for a repeat of Chinatown any moment now. Thanks for the Dürrenmatt AND Nicholson prompts--will try to see that adaptation for sure.

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