The jury is in for Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Execution of Justice

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing three of Friedrich novellas before receiving The Execution of Justice. Through Suspicion, The Judge and his Hangman and The Pledge, I was introduced to a master writer whose fusing of existential philosophy and subversions of the detective genre had me hooked and intrigued in equal measure.

This is the kind of author that doesn’t believe in easy resolutions to his crime narratives. Rather, Dürrenmatt seemed more interested in revealing to his audience the moral trappings of trying to do good, the cracks of a system built to fight sin and disintegration of heroes while the villains rampaged on a higher plain over their heads. The novellas were slim and tautly constructed; the dialogue sparse; the descriptions cold. The Execution of Justice is something else.

Expanding to something closer to a full blown novel’s length and three decades in the making, The Execution of Justice feels like Dürrenmatt unleashed. His descriptions flow wildly through everything from philosophy and politics to bleakly satirical slices of sociology to feverish effect.

The plot is classic, twisted, rule-breaking Dürrenmatt: A high roller murders a man in front of plenty of witnesses. It’s obvious who did it. The case is open and shut. But when the incarcerated murderer hires a disreputable lawyer to investigate the possibility that it was someone else, the case inverts into a claustrophobic entanglement of red tape, sin and checkered pasts.

It’s written from the perspective of the lawyer who struggles through drink, confusion, anger and double crossings. A masterful touch is that the writing style affected by his level of inebriation forcing the reader to go down the same downward spiral as our (anti) hero and legitimising the moral plight.

Started (and set) in the 1950s and not finished until another attempt in the 1980s, The Execution of Justice lacks the brutal urgency of Dürrenmatt’s earlier works but feels more considered and wide-reaching. Fans of Kafka, Nabokov and Camus will find plenty of darkness and ambiguity to revel in with The Execution of Justice.

More details and a link to buy over at Pushkin Press here.

Pushkin Press book cover - Friedrich Durrenmatt The Execution of Justice

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