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Mystery Monday Review – The Judge and His Hangman

 

The Judge and His Hangman

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1950 whodunnit, it all starts with the discovery of a police detective’s corpse, in a car by a constable in a Swiss village. Commissioner Bärlach, an old, experienced detective takes the case despite ill health – he has been plagued with stomach pain that requires a surgery he’s been procrastinating.

When Bärlach discovers that the murdered man had assumed an alias and attended parties at the house of a certain Herr Gastmann in the village, Bärlach’s investigation is suddenly sabotaged by his superior Dr. Lucius Lutz. Lutz was put off by Gastmann’s lawyer who implied that Gastmann was getting protection from the highest levels of the Swiss government, which in turn was being pressured by politicians and arms manufacturers who do not want their lucrative business disturbed.

Bärlach quickly realizes that Gastmann was an old opponent, who, as a young man, had murdered an innocent man in cold-blood, on a bet. Since then, Bärlach had been following this man, who always took on new aliases, but could never pin anything on him. Bärlach realizes that he must continue his investigations in order to produce a just end which cannot be reached in legal ways.

Bärlach is a disillusioned individual who does not battle the ordinary unfolding of events with a belief system or bureaucratic protocol but with his own sense of right and wrong and his own conviction that criminals are caught because the police can exploit the criminal’ mistakes in planning, executing, and covering up a crime. Crooks are humans and humans are fallible because nobody can predict how reality will turn out in the wake of a crime. His nemesis Gastmann, however, argues that the chaotic “entanglement of human relationships” lends itself to unsolvable crimes and lack of proof that could stand in a court of law.

Again because it is very short, it is worthwhile to read it twice: the first time as a crime novel for the sake of untangling the plot’s the surprising twists and the second time as a jumping off point for curious philosophical questions, if that is the reader’s bent.

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