• Winner of the 2005 Friedrich Glauser Prize
  • Translated from German by Mike Mitchell

It’s Swiss week on GLM XI. So why don’t we take a trip to visit my co-hostess Caroline in Basel, a Swiss city located a hop, skip and a jump away from the French and German borders, something that is key to the freedom of movement so apparent in the first of Hansjörg Schneider’s Inspector Hunkeler series to be translated into English.

Hunkeler is a bit of a geezer; approaching the end of his career, with prostate and heart problems, and a fondness for drink. He loves his long-term girlfriend, but she’s on sabbatical in Paris. So, as he’s on his way home, following a night in the seedy side of town, he’s taken short and goes for a pee against a tree. He spots a vagabond acquaintance, Hardy, sitting on a bench, and goes over for a chat. One lonely guy to another, for he knows Hardy is keeping an eye on his ex, hoping she’ll invite him in from the snowy cold. When Hardy does not respond, Hunkeler discovers his throat has been slashed, his ear slit, and the diamond he wore in it removed.

Hunkeler’s colleagues decide the murderer must come from the community of drug-dealing immigrant Albanians. Hunkeler is not so sure. He believes it to be related to the murder of the prostitute, Barbara Amseler, whose killer had the same modus operandi. The jewel taken from her slit ear was a pearl stud. However, because he found Hardy, he cannot investigate that case, but he is still investigating the Amseler case. So he decided to question a suspect, already in custody. An error of judgment, because when that suspect escapes, Hunkeler is suspended.

He retreats to his holiday home in Alsace, and wanders around the countryside, through the forests, round the fishing ponds, keeping in touch with his contacts, and mulling things over. It turns out that this idyllic landscape is far from being a idyl. Hunkeler stumbles across a burnt-out car with a body inside, another corpse is pulled from a pond, but it is not until a young girl is attacked that Hunkeler understands the connection that solves the mystery of the slit-ear murders. It’s not one I foresaw, being steeped in an unjust episode of Swiss history. Still I had the murderer pegged – not hard, the clues are there. Just the motivation that is so surprising (though probably not to the Swiss.)

Originally published in 2004, this is the fifth novel in the Hunkeler series, the first to be translated into English. (Which makes the spiel on the front cover of the English edition a tad misleading.) It will be interesting how Bitter Lemon play this. Will they go back to the beginning of the series or continue forwards in time? Either will make me happy because this was a great read. Hunkeler has his problems but I didn’t find him as depressive as other older cops. I wasn’t so fond of his open attitude to fidelity, but if his girlfriend doesn’t want to know, why should I tell her? In addition, a crime novel that makes me curious to read Ismail Kadare’s novel of Albanian blood feuds, Broken April, has a lot going for it.