I can’t remember why or where I bought this book, although I have a distant memory of adding The Pledge (another Inspector Barlach mystery) to my to-read list a while back. I also didn’t know that Durrenmatt is better known as a playwright, but apparently Mrs Temple (being a German teacher) has taught his play The Visit for the last decade and more. Anyway, Suspicion is a short, tense sort-of detective story, but with plenty of fairytale and strangeness thrown in. A by-the-numbers police procedural this ain’t.
It starts with Inspector Barlach lying in his hospital bed, terminally ill, and his doctor recognising someone on the cover of a magazine who undertook operations in a concentration camp. Barlach, partly out of a sense of justice and partly to prove he still has power and ability, decides to pursue the surgeon in question and unravel the tangled narrative behind him. This leads him to medical journals, a suicide, and to a Swiss clinic for the rich and famous. The latter scenes are genuinely tense and troubling with a real sense of jeopardy and claustrophobia, as Barlach faces the evil enemy.
Where the story diverts from the norm is in its subject matter: operations undertaken on people without anaesthetic in the Holocaust, and the ‘learning’ from those being utilised in a private clinic for the wealthy, all because of the psychopathic inclinations of a man who once cut the throat of a friend to save his life…this isn’t sweetness and light. It’s also combined with a strange sense of the surreal; early on, Barlach requests Gulliver’s Travels from his former colleague, but what follows is a visit from a Jewish giant who is touring the world bringing revenge and justice to Nazis who escaped post-war. Later, the giant is matched by a dwarf who also has something equating to special powers.
It’s a terse, odd, unsettling tale with an undercurrent of darkness that lingers after the final page; and with a similarly strange bunch of characters, each with their own world view: primarily nihilistic. And if that appeals for a short quick read (in a lovely Pushkin edition, by the way), then Suspicion isn’t a bad choice.
BUY IT NOW: Suspicion