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.

10 April 2014

Review: A WHISPERED NAME, William Brodrick

  • published in 2008 by Little, Brown
  • ISBN 9-780316-731553
  • 346 pages
  • source: library book
  • #3 in the Father Anselm series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

'To keep quiet about something so important ...well, it's almost a lie, wouldn't you say?' When Father Anselm meets Kate Seymour in the cemetery at Larkwood, he is dismayed to hear her allegation. Herbert Moore had been one of the founding fathers of the Priory, revered by all who met him, a man who'd shaped Anselm's own vocation.

The idea that someone could look on his grave and speak of a lie is inconceivable. But Anselm soon learns that Herbert did indeed have secrets in his past that he kept hidden all his life.

In 1917, during the terrible slaughter of the Passchendale campaign, a soldier faced a court martial for desertion. Herbert, charged with a responsibility that would change the course of his life, sat upon the panel that judged him. In coming to understand the court martial, Anselm discovers its true significance: a secret victory that transformed the young Captain Moore and shone a light upon the horror of war.

My Take

I decided to read this title because my face-to-face book group have chosen a later one in the Father Anselm series for discussion next month.

Father Anselm realises from his brief discussion with Kate Seymour, a visitor to Herbert Moore's grave, that there are great many things he does not know about Father Moore. Anselm takes his disquiet to the Prior who reveals that before Herbert died he had given the Prior some army tags to be handed on to a Joseph Flanagan. For the last fifteen years of his life Herbert had awaited a visit by Joseph Flanagan but he never came. The Prior hands over to Anselm a box of Herbert's possessions containing among other things an envelope addressed to a Private Harold Shaw. The army tags belong to yet another name.

So at the Prior's request Anselm begins to investigate what Herbert Moore had done during the war, and to see if he can carry out Herbert's final request. Anselm solves one mystery to find that there is yet another. The final mystery is not revealed until the very last pages.

The structure of the story is interesting: the results of Anselm's investigations parallel a "real-time" narration of what happened to Herbert Moore in the first World War, and in particular in an "event" he was involved in during 1917. Not a day goes past for the rest of his life that Herbert does not think about his role in that event.

The novel also covers issues like what happened on the front during the war: the inequity of punishments for desertion for example due to timing, rank, and nationality; the horrific effects of bombardments on both sides; the effects of battlefield cleanup and burial duties on those who remained; the decimation of battalions; the differences in how soldiers and commanding officers were treated, accommodated, and fed; and the reasons why men enlisted.

Fascinating stuff. A reminder that at the end those who fought in the First World War were, first and foremost, people, who sometimes just found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My rating: 4.9

9 April 2014

Review: HUNTING SHADOWS, Charles Todd - audio book

Synopsis (Audible.com)

A dangerous case with ties leading back to the battlefields of World War I dredges up dark memories for Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge in Hunting Shadows, a gripping and atmospheric historical mystery set in 1920s England, from acclaimed New York Times best-selling author Charles Todd.

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange it's unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them - except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don't add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter - or the spirit - of the law?

My Take

It is a couple of years since I've caught up with this series, despite the best intentions of reading them all. HUNTING SHADOWS makes me want to read more.

However Ian Rutledge hasn't moved on very far in that time. The setting is 1920, he is still working on demand out of Scotland Yard, and still suffering from post-war stress. World War One is still raw in the memories of rural England, where so many young lads went off to war and either did not return or came back maimed in body and soul.

Rutledge comes from London to the Fens to solve a murder at Ely Cathedral. The expectation both by his boss in London and the local Inspector in charge is that it won't take long. On the face of it there are no connections between the first murder and the second, nor with the shooting that follows. But of course there are connections as Rutledge will eventually ferret out.

The plots in this series are so well constructed, and there is enough of Rutledge's continuing story to maintain the reader's interest too. There is a post-war flavour that comes out well, and some interesting characters and occupations, some of which no longer exist.

My rating: 4.7

I've also reviewed
4.5, A DUTY TO THE DEAD(A Bess Crawford novel)

6 April 2014

Review: THE LABYRINTH MAKERS, Anthony Price - audio book

Synopsis (Audible.com)

When an RAF Dakota, presumed lost at sea in 1945, is discovered in a drained lake in Lincolnshire, together with its pilot and a cargo of worthless rubble, it falls to David Audley of the MOD to puzzle out just why the Russians are so interested in the discovery - and what the plane was carrying that is important enough to kill for.

Winner of a Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagge, this is the first of a 19 title series featuring Dr David Audley.

My Take

This has many of the hallmarks of a debut title, not just the first title in the series. We need quite a bit of background about many of the characters and the book takes a while to get to the central plot. I'm not sure that I ever understood the meaning of the title properly.

At the beginning the author attempts to establish that Dr. David Audley, in his mid 30s, has been sidelined by the Ministry of Defence after what he considers to be a successful career in Middle Eastern Affairs. He thinks that he successfully predicted various events such as the Suez Crisis ahead of the pack. He doesn't take kindly to being allocated to investigate events of World War II, particularly incidents of local origin.

The date is 1969 and the plane crash occurred nearly 25 years before. But when a Russian espionage agent shows enough interest to fly to Britain to investigate the contents of the Dakota, Audley's interest is spiked. Even more when the daughter of the Dakota's pilot, a baby when her father died, turns up on his doorstep.

To reveal what the Russian thinks the plane contained would be to tell you too much of the plot, but you might want to look at this Wikipedia article.

Published in 1970, the title is an illustration of how many British authors were interested in the legacies of the Second World War, and the impact on international politics of the Cold War.Very readable thrillers were the result.

Part of the attractiveness of the book is that it is relatively short, and I liked it enough to begin reading the second in the series, THE ALAMUT AMBUSH.

My rating: 4.3

3 April 2014

New to Me authors January to March 2014

I've read 5 new-to-me crime fiction authors so far this year.
  1. 4.3, HOTEL BOSPHORUS, Esmahan Aykol
  2. 4.4, WITNESS THE NIGHT, Kishwar Desai 
  3. 4.1, THE DIVIDED CHILD, Ekaterine Nikas
  4. 4.4, DRIVE BY, Michael Duffy  
  5. 4.6, VISITATION STREET, Ivy Pochoda
Check who others have discovered.

Review: THE GHOST RUNNER, Parker Bilal

  • published 2014
  • ISBN 9-781408-841112
  • #3 in the Makana series
  • 413 pages
  • from my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

It is 2002 and as tanks roll into the West Bank and the reverberations of 9/11 echo across the globe, tensions are running high on Cairo's streets.

Private Investigator Makana, in exile from his native Sudan and increasingly haunted by memories of his wife and daughter, is shaken out of his despondency when a routine surveillance job leads him to the horrific murder of a teenage girl. In a country where honor killings are commonplace and the authorities seem all too eager to turn a blind eye, Makana determines to track down the perpetrator. He finds unexpected assistance in the shape of Zahra, a woman who seems to share Makana's hunger for justice.

Seeking answers in the dead girl's past he travels to Siwa, an oasis town on the edge of the great Sahara Desert, where the law seems disturbingly far away and old grievances simmer just below the surface. As violence follows him through the twisting, sandblown streets and an old enemy lurks in the shadows, Makana discovers that the truth can be as deadly and as changeable as the desert beneath his feet.

My take

This really is one of those books that takes the Western reader into a very different world.

Makana is at first engaged to track a lawyer whose wife says she thinks he is having an affair.  The lawyer in turn hires Makana to find out the truth about the death of a young woman in a house fire. The investigation takes him out of Cairo to the desert and he finds himself assisting local police in solving the horrific murders of two local men, one the local Qadi who was trying to make money from selling land that he didn't own, and the other a simpleton who thought he saw a ghost.

Predictably, it is all quite a tangled story, but one that has its roots in the past. In the end I thought the plot became just a little too tangled for the author, and I didn't think the final resolution was all that satisfying, although probably realistic.

My rating : 4.4

About the author
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub. Mahjoub has published seven critically acclaimed literary novels, which have been widely translated. Born in London, he has lived at various times in the UK, Sudan, Cairo and Denmark. He currently lives in Barcelona.


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