Suspicion is the second of two novels featured in The Inspector Barlach Mysteries by Friedrich Durrenmatt published by The University of Chicago Press. Getting your hands on a copy probably won’t be easy, but it will be worth the effort. Both feature cynical, ailing Inspector Barlach, diagnosed with a terminal illness in The Judge and His Hangman, with just a few months left to live in Suspicion.
While in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, waiting to get well enough to undergo surgery, Inspector Barlach receives a visit from an old friend, a Jewish man who survived the Nazi concentration camps. His friend tells him about a particular doctor infamous for performing experimental surgery without anesthesia. Barlach’s friend is the only prisoner known to have survived treatment at the hands of the notorious Dr. Nehle. Dr. Nehle escaped the invading Russian army only to commit suicide a few years after the war. The only known photograph of the living Dr. Nehle was taken during surgery while the doctor was wearing a surgical mask.
Except Inspector Barlach’s friend insist that Dr. Nehle is still alive and is practicing under the name of Dr. Emmenberger at a nearby health spa where the very wealthy go to receive his special treatments. Inspector Barlach will let neither ill health, forced retirement, nor impending death keep him from investigating the case, and he is soon convinced that his friend is correct, that the successful Dr. Emmenberger is really the notorious Dr. Nehle. To prove he is correct, Inspector Barlach arranges his own transfer to the health spa where he will be cared for by Dr. Emmenberger/Nehle and where he will have the chance to interrogate the doctor about his past.
As pure thriller, seldom have I found anything as hard to put down as Suspicion. Imagine a laconic Hercule Poirot crossed with the urgency of Sorry Wrong Number. At just over 100 pages Suspicion is a detective thriller stripped down to its essence. There are no McGuffins here, no quirky characters diverting our attention into subplots, no forays into local color for the sake of travelogue. Every action, every character serves the purpose of developing the plot as Inspector Barlach rushes into danger in spite of his confinement in his own death bed. He practically solves the case from beyond the grave. As a police procedural, Suspicion works quite well, but here even Inspector Barlach eventually reaches the limits of police work.
In the end, he has just about nothing to go on but his own suspicion.
I first ran this review back on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., in 2010. I saved my copy to reread once I’m in retirement, but I don’t know. Maybe I should give it another go for German Literature month in November. It was really, really good.