According to Friedrich Dürrenmatt, part of his business as a modern writer was to reach a mass audience through his detective novels, promoting the one main idea that informs most of his other writings: the pursuit of justice. His production of mystery and detective fiction was, however, relatively small in comparison to his other literary endeavors. His detective novels make up only two of the thirty volumes of his collected works of 1980.
The Judge and His Hangman
Dürrenmatt began his career as writer of detective fiction with the Hans Bärlach series. In The Judge and His Hangman, a lieutenant of the Bern police department has been murdered. Inspector Bärlach gets the case, but because he is old and sick, he requests that a younger police officer, named Tschanz (in English, Chance), be assigned to assist him. They discover a mysterious character, a man named Gastmann, who has some connection with the murdered lieutenant. Tschanz is for the hard-boiled approach, but Bärlach restrains him. Bärlach recognizes Gastmann as a master criminal, a man whom he has been trying to trap without success for decades. According to a commentary by one of the characters, Gastmann represents evil. For Gastmann, evil is not the expression of a philosophy or an instinct, but of his freedom, the freedom of a nihilist. Bärlach characterizes him as a devil in human disguise. Once, Gastmann had killed a man in broad daylight in front of Bärlach, only to prove that the detective would not be able to pin the crime on him. This murder had been the result of a blasphemous wager. Since that time, Gastmann had tried to become an even more elusive criminal, while Bärlach had tried to become an even better detective to trap his satanic opponent.
Bärlach now realizes that the murdered lieutenant had also been on Gastmann’s trail in an illegal international arms deal. Bärlach uses Tschanz to go after Gastmann, who is killed with his two servants during a shoot-out. The gun that killed the lieutenant is found in the hand of one of the servants. Yet this is not the solution to the case. In fact, Tschanz is the real murderer. He killed the lieutenant to take his place on the force and to acquire his car and his girlfriend. From the beginning, Bärlach has been aware of Tschanz’s involvement in the crime, but he set him up against Gastmann, dog against dog. Bärlach appoints himself the judge and Tschanz the hangman. After his metaphysical opponent has been defeated, the old detective does not bother to arrest Tschanz. He leaves Tschanz’s punishment to chance: The murderer is accidentally killed in a car-train accident.
The Quarry, the second and last novel of the series, is another story of Bärlach and his refusal to abandon the pursuit of justice. His illness, which is considered terminal, confines him to the hospital and forces him to retire from the Bern police department. He is expected to live out his life with stoic...
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