Tuesday 30 November 2021

The Basel Killings

Finished November 20 
The Basel Killings by Hansjörg Schneider

This is the fifth book in the series featuring Inspector Hunkeler, and the first to be translated into English. I think it is also the first series I've read that is set in Switzerland. Hunkeler is a divorced father, with his daughter grown up. He has a girlfriend who is a kindergarten teacher, and she is on a three month sabbatical, spending it in Paris. He misses her, and often spends his evening in a bar not far from his apartment. Besides his apartment in Basel, Hunkeler also has a farm in Alsace, across the nearby border in France. He spends a fair bit of time there, and has an arrangement with a nearby farmer and his wife who look after his place, including the chickens, when he isn't around. 
He's had a case of a murdered prostitute for a while and while he keeps going over the case files, he just can't seem to find a solution to it. 
As the story begins, he leaves the bar one evening to go home, but finds the sudden cold air outside triggers his need to pee, and rather than return to the bar, or go to the nearby billiards hall, where he also spends time, he elects to pee on the potted tree in the nearby courtyard of a bank. The courtyard also holds a bench and he notices an acquaintance sitting there, apparently asleep. He sits near him and begins a conversation, but when there is no reply, he looks closer and finds that the man is dead, murdered in fact, and after being ill from the shock, he calls the police.
Because he is acquainted with the dead man, he is not assigned the case, and in fact seems to be on the outs with the man assigned to it. 
Hunkeler is an interesting character, one who is well educated, intelligent, and knowledgeable, but also comfortable with less refined company, such as those in the bar he frequents. He knows some of the local immigrant community, and doesn't judge himself superior to them. 
He knows the rural police near Basel, as well as those in Alsace where he also lives. He walks a lot, thinking and observing as he does. He is a man who can make connections, who listens to people from all walks of life and accords what they tell him a measure of respect. It is all of this that makes him a good policeman. 
As he digs into the lives of both the prostitute and the man on the bench, he looks for connections, and trusts his instincts. I also learned some history that I hadn't been aware of before. The deliberate and planned work of the Swiss against the Romany through an organization called Kinder der Landstrasse (Children of the Road). It is very similar in nature to the actions here in Canada around residential schools, but goes even further, permanently separating children from their parents.
We don't see much of his girlfriend here, only glimpses, but we see into Hunkeler's personal life in other ways, and he is a very intriguing character.

1 comment:

  1. It's odd that it's the fifth in the series but the first to be translated into English. I don't think I've read many books set in Switzerland.