First English edition (1955)
|Original title||Der Richter und sein Henker|
|Publisher||Harper & Brothers (US)|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
The Judge and His Hangman (German: Der Richter und sein Henker) is a 1950 novel by the Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt. It was first published in English in 1954, in a translation by Cyrus Brooks and later in a translation by Therese Pol. A new translation by Joel Agee appeared in 2006, published together with its sequel Suspicion, as The Inspector Bärlach Mysteries, with a foreword by Sven Birkerts. Together with Dürrenmatt's The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel, these stories are considered classics of crime fiction, fusing existential philosophy and the detective genre.
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The central question of this book is whether or not it is right to frame a person for a crime they didn't commit, if they've committed another crime that was never proven. Bärlach affirms the question when he says to Gastmann: "I couldn't prove that it was you who committed the first crime, but I am transferring this crime to you" — therefore, Gastmann, the very embodiment of evil criminality, was finally punished.
The interplay between Bärlach and Lutz takes on a symbolic dimension. Lutz, the university-educated overseer, insists on the efficacy of modern, scientific crime-solving methods "from the Chicago school", which is based mainly on circumstantial evidence and forensics. Bärlach is skeptical, relying instead on his deep knowledge of human motives, born of lifelong experience. Tschanz, Bärlach's underling, makes use of the modern evidence-to-proof method and serves as a contrast to Bärlach's style of natural intuition and usage of human manipulation. While Tschanz's methods make ostensible progress on the case, ultimately, it is Bärlach's intuitive sense that has long since enabled him to determine the truth, and also enables him to use Tschanz to settle his old score with Gastmann.
One can understand the novel also as question: "When humans determine themselves the fate of others they become the judges, and when they become the instrument of others they become the henchmen." Having been set up by Bärlach to kill Gastmann, Tschanz says to Bärlach at the end of the story, "Then you were the judge and I the hangman". Tschanz then kills himself the following day by stopping his car on an active railroad track.