Inspector Barlach

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Pushkin Press specialises in classily produced versions of translated fiction. Their Vertigo imprint which features translated crime, is a welcome extension. I saw the recently re-published Suspicion, one of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s Inspector Barlach crime novels, on the counter of the excellent Riverside Bookshop in London, and surprisingly good value, too, at £4.99.

Durrenmatt is a Swiss writer whom I mostly know for The Visit, an entertaining play that has at its heart questions about money, morality and corruption.

Suspicion looks as if it was first published in instalments in a Swiss newspaper in 1951–2, and then in book form a year later. It is set in late 1948 and early 1949, and like the Philip Kerr novel featured recently on Around the Edges, trades in that grey world of the post-war war criminal. Is the doctor running a prestigious Zurich clinic really a notorious doctor from a concentration camp?

I’m not going to try to convey the plot, since I’ll give something away, but it’s fair to say that it is equal parts noir and metaphysics. It also has that now-familar trope (small spoiler) of the detective who puts himself in danger to catch his quarry, only to realise that his quarry is two or three steps ahead of him. As tropes go, it would have been a lot less familiar in 1951.

It’s closer to novella length, at 150 pages or so, and I kept turning the pages. I hadn’t come across Barlach before, but there are several more to read.

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