Alienated Tokyo Hyperrealism

Okada Toshiki (1973-) is a “lost generation” (1990s stalled Japanese economy/recession) writer and anime producer sometimes labeled “hyperrealist,” which means manufacturer of banality to me. His novella The End of the Moment We Had/ The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed was based on his 2007 Kishida Drama Prize-winnning “Five Days in March” (Watashitachi ni yurusareta tokubetsu na jikan no owari). It begins with a tedious visit of six very drunk male friends to a Roppongi bar. The narrator , Azuma,stumbles off with a woman for four nights of frequent sex with a bar pickup.

For no particular reason I can infer, the narration shifts from the man to the woman roughly half way the recounting of the frequent fucking, sleeping some, venturing out from the Shibuya love hotel. The narrative voice changes little, making the switch all the more once inexplicable. At the end they part without exchanging contact information, unlikely to meet again.


(Shibuya district)

Before cutting themselves off for the extended sexcapade, the couple are dismayed by the prospect of war starting in Iraq, following an ultimatum from George W. Bush to Saddam Hussein. By the time their tryst is over, the US has invaded Iraq, though US forces have not yet taken Baghdad. This is part of the reality the two flee from for a few days. (They never turn on the tv in their refuge, which has no clocks and no windows to let its inhabitants know whether it is day or night.) Each thought the war would be over in a few days with Bush triumphant. The account ends with the woman throwing up, partly on herself (the last few pages have an omniscient narrator).


There is a second, slightly longer novella, “My Place in Plural” with only one narrator, a bored 30-something wife, too bored to go to her part-time hob, lying around, but never reaching a deep sleep. Nor succeeding in slaying a cockroach that scurries to the safety of a drawer. Presumably, she is still married to her hard-working husband, who has two jobs in contrast to her less than one. The mood of both novellas is encapsulated into the wife’s generalization about opening new windows on her laptop: “In the few seconds while the page loaded, I felt like I was holding out hope for something, though I’m not sure what. But as soon as the content came on screen my hope vanished.”

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Gregory Peck in “Only the Valiant” (1951)

Between 1948 and 1958 Gregory Peck forged the more psychologically complex “adult western” genre (“adult” not in the sense of sexually explicit but as dramas for adults rather than white hat/black hat adventures for boys) in five films conemporaneous with Howard Hawks’s “Red River,” John Ford’s “The Searchers,” and the original “3:10 to Yuma” (written by Elmore Leonard, whose work would be adapted into some of the grittiest later westerns, such as “Valdez Is Coming”).

The 1950 “The Gunfighter” in which Peck played the title role (with a notorious mustache) is the prototype, though “Yellow Sky” (1948) has plenty of ironies. Peck had dramatically cracked up as General Savage leading bombing missions in “Twelve o’clock High” (1949) and had been traumatized in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945), Peck played a series of very tough-minded individuals during the 1948-51 periods, including Captain Ahab in John Huston’s adaptation of “Moby Dick” (1956), the relentless hunter of his wife’s killers in “The Bravados” (1958) ,, battling Charlton Heston in William Wyler’ “The Big Country,” holding a Korean hill in “Pork Chop Hill” (1959), taking out “The Guns of Navarrone” (1961,”and the extremely straight-laced Captain Richard Lance in the 1951 cavalry melodrama filmed in black-and-white “Only the Valiant.”


At the start, Capt. Lance refuses to let his scout, Joe Harmony (Jeff Corey) shoot the captive Apache chief, Tucsos (Michael Ansara, the future Mr. Freeze, who, btw, was born in Syria). The army does not shoot prisoners Lance avers. Harmony points out that he is a civilian, but very reluctantly accepts Lance’s decision.


Back at the main fort (Fort Winston), Col. Drumm (Herbert Hayes) is bedridden. He tells Capt. Lance to select a detail to escort Tucsos further away. Harmony tells Lance that this is a suicide mission, that Apaches are all around, flush with having overrun the fort that guarded the pass through which they swoop down (Fort Invincible).

Col. Drumm is annoyed that Lance has chosen himself to lead the detail, and designates Lt. William Holloway (the every ingratiating Gig Young) to lead it. The soldiers and the surgeon’s daughter Cathy (Barbara Payton), who has spurned Holloway because she is in love with the Alpha Male (Capt. Lance), thinks Lance has chosen Holloway because he saw Holloway kissing her, believes that Lance asked to be replaced by Holloway. The audience knows that this is untrue, but as W. I. Thomas famously wrote, “If men [human beings] define a situation as real, it has real consequences.”

The garrulous drunkard, Cpl. Timothy Gilchrist (Ward Bond, borrowed from the John Ford repertory company) looks at the list of the detail and remarks that it has everyone with a grudge against Capt. Lance. Before the Last Stand, Capt. Lance will explain the rationale for choosing the misfits he did. One might wonder if Capt. Lance is deficient in sense and motivating those he is leading. If so, the psychological ju-jitsu seems to work.

“Arab” (Lon Chaney, Jr.) goes from trying to kill Lance (when he returned from Holloway’s failed expedition and again at the start of the posting to the waterless Fort Invincible guarding the pass) to twice saving Lance.


The early 1950s began to portray Apaches (the last pacified indigenous peoples) as something other than bloodthirsty savages (Broken Arrow, Apache, Taza – Son of Cochise. “Only the Valiant” doesn’t portray them much at all. The attackers are brave and Tucsos is a bit arrogant, but mostly the Apaches are shown attempting to push white invaders back.

The movie reminded me of some later movies with small bands of misfits meshing (The Dirty Dozen, Seven Samurai, They Came to Condura), and even more explicitly uniting Confederate and Union soldiers against Indian attacks (Return to Fort Bravo and Major Dundee) with plucky last stands (Return to Fort Bravo, Zulu, Seven Samurai). Capt. Lance is not a megalomaniac in the mold of Gen, Custer, Lt. Col. Thursday (Henry Fonda’s martinet in “Fort Apache”) … or Capt. Ahab.

Although his mission is to buy time for relief troops to reach Fort Winston, Lance is not suicidal, has plans to close the pass, and genuinely aims to return with as many of his misfit detail as possible.

Peck is really, really good as the straight, straight arrow officer with savvy as well as inflexible rectitude. When Cpl. Gilchrist is asked why he didn’t kill the captain, he replies that without him, they have no chance to survive the mission. The respect the captain inspires is very grudging but very real, and Peck makes it credible.

The supporting cast is also good (except for the wooden Payton as the only marriageable woman around). Bond runs with the opportunities provided by the role of the roguish drunk (who can shoot and prevail in hand-to-hand combat even when under the influence), the kind of role the alcoholic John Ford often assigned to Victor McLaglen.

I thought that the black-and-white movie was shot in a studio. The pass did not look at all right to me, and the movie’s Chiricaua Apaches were not in anything resembling the Chiricauha Mountains of northeastern Arizona. The location shooting (of which I think there was not much!) was somewhere in northeastern New Mexico (Galllup) — Navajo country.

Though the location looked wrong (fake) to me, a lot of the movie takes place at night. There is none of the visual splendor of John Ford’s westerns (black-and-white or color ones) in Lionel Lindon’s (Going My Way, I Want to Live!, The Manchurian Cndidate) serviceable, rather noirish cinematography. Franz Waxman (Rebecca, Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun) provided a varied and solid musical score.The print transferred to DVD (with no bonus features other than some trailers for other westerns) is not very good, I’m glad to have been able to see the movie, which George Chabot long ago recommended to me, but wish that it had been remastered. As a pioneer tough-minded western, it deserves better than Lions Gate has provided. I’d give the DVD two stars, but the movie is a solid and interesting 4+ stars.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray


Errol Morris in Hillermanland

The one venture into fiction filmmaking by documentarian Errol Morris (Fog of War, Thin Blue Line) was the first film adaptation of a Tony Hillerman mystery, “The Dark Wind” (1991). It was shot on location with Navajo and Hopi technicians and extras by Morris’s usual cinematographer Stefan Czapsky.


Hillerman supplied plots, and the intersection between murders and drug trafficking in The Dark Wind is very complicated and confusing, but his series of Navajo Tribal Police procedurals was character-driven more than plot-driven, with a major emphasis on Navajo (and in this instance, Hopi) beliefs about evil spirits and just plan evil (the dark wind).

At the start, Jim Chee (Lou Diamond Phillips), whose thoughts we hear in voiceovers (a departure from Hillerman’s third person) is new to the Tuba City station and on a boring stakeout for someone who is vandalizing windmills. He sees a small plane crash, runs to the scene, where he finds the pilot dead and a man in a suit with a Wigwam Motel card in his mouth. He hears, but does not see a truck driving away.

When a corrupt and sadistic pair of FBI (not DEA?) investigators arrive, Chee becomes a prime suspect of having made off with the cocaine. His boss (herein) Lt. Leaphorn (Fred Ward) sends him to liaison with a corpulent Hopi deputy, “Cowboy” Dashee (Gary Farmer). There is a corpse on Hopi territory with its fingertips and toetips hacked off, which is the m.o. of Navajo witches (skinwalkers).

And there is a burglary of pawned jeelry at the Burnt Water Trading Post. Of course, all these are collected and the motive that collects them is very hidden. And our dogged investigator will figure it all out, though getting roughed up a couple of times. Indeed, he is the character who spends the most time handcuffed during the movie (handcuffed by the federal officers).


The movie seems true to the spirit and characters and setting of Hillerman’s novels. Much as I like Adam Beach, both in general and as Jim Chee in the three made-for-PBS Hillerman/Navajo mysteries in particular, I think that Phillips was better at bringing out the lonely, depressive side of Chee’s character. Beach seems a more extroverted, convivial, and self-confident person, even when bewildered and frustrated. Both excel in showing commitment to traditional belies and respect for the elders, and I like all four screen adaptations.

Apparently, the movie previewed badly, producer Robert Redford panicked and had someone else shoot the action sequences. The movie was not theatrically released, and images with mikes hanging into the shot that would have disappeared in the planned 1:1.85 ratio are sometimes visible. No final “release print” was made, and the DVD was made from the camera original.

Phillips (who is 1/8th Cherokee and also of Spanish, Scottish/Irish, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian descent, born on a US naval base in the Philippines) was outstanding as the lead in “La Bamba” (1987), and in supporting roles in “Stand and Deliver” (1988), and “Courage Under Fire” (1996), and has had work, though less of a carree than I think he he should have. Farmer was the star of the first great Native American movie, “Pow Wow Highway” (1989) and for me was the best part of Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man” (1995). As his weight continues to increase, he became the boss of both Leaphorn and Chee, Capt. Largo, in the three PBS Hillerman adaptations.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray

The Fall of the Salem house of Pyncheon

My recent attempts to read American literature from before the Civil War have not gone well. Short stories by Edgar Allan Poe that I read with rapt interest before I was a teenager seemed interminable to me when I reread them a few months ago. I could only get through the original detective novel by skipping from the first sentence of one paragraph to the first sentence of the next. The meandering sentences in Walden made me impatient, though his smugness grated even more. However, I apparently had no problem with either when I first read the book as a teenager.

The reason for making a third venture into that era was a visit to the original house of seven gables (actually, it was originally a house of three gables) in Salem, and to the house in which Nathaniel Hawthorne was born that has been moved next to it. I thought that fresh memories of the house (and well) might enhance rereading a book that I read when I was 12 or 13 (which is to say, long ago!) and from which I remembered nothing at all except the title and name of the author. Though discouraged by my rereading of Poe and Thoreau, I thought there was a better chance for The House of Seven Gables, because I reread The Scarlet Letter a few years ago with some pleasure, and vaguely recall enjoying reading the other canonical Hawthorne novel (The Blithesdale Romance) in college (admittedly, also long ago).


The House of Seven Gables is very, very verbose. If I were editing it, I would cut at least two-thirds of it, in particular one chapter (the 18th) of more than 6000 words that meanders round and round something that was perfectly obvious before the beginning of the chapter and remains unspecified in the 6000+ words. “Atmosphere” is the charitable interpretation. Padding is mine.

Despite the impatience which has afflicted me in reading all three of the pre-Civil War American literary masters, I could say that I liked The House of Seven Gables (unlike Walden which is insufferable to my 21st-century attention span or attention deficit.) The characters are more than a bit formulaic, the descriptive detail is beyond excessive, and after all the piling on of details, the ending seems almost perfunctory (and in the view of some—but not me—forced).


Hawthorne (shown ca. 1848) was haunted by the greed and intolerance of the Salem of his ancestors as Faulkner was haunted by the defeat of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. (Greed as well as guilt and long-smoldering rage intrigued both, too. And both produced some very long and winding sentences.) In The House of Seven Gables, Hawthorne wrote of the Pyncheon clan and the curse on its ancestral home (the seven-gabled house) because, in the seventeenth century, the lot on which the house was later built and a rare sweet-water well were taken from Matthew Maule over the latter’s insistent protests. Maule was condemned to be hanged (those convicted of witchcraft in Salem were hanged, not burned at the stake) by a judge Pyncheon who wanted the property (“real estate is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests,” and Hawthorne was not even considering the still-earlier expropriation of the Native Peoples of Massachusetts!), and built the grand—but now-rotting and moss-encased—house.

The Pyncheon clan has not died out at the unspecified time (ca. 1840?) of the novel’s present, but has dwindled. There is a latter-day Judge Pyncheon who is a man of substance and has a son doing Europe. With a lifetime use of the house is a very poor relation, Hepzibah Pyncheon, a spinster whose poor vision has given her face a frightening appearance of a scowl. She is bearing the indignity of going into trade, opening a penny store, so that anyone might enter. Even worse, she must respond to the jangling bell on the door announcing the entrance of a customer.

The reason Hepzibah opens shop and interrupts slowly starving in dignified solitude is that her much-loved brother Clifford is returning after years incarceration (the reason for which is not revealed in the novel’s first 300 pages…)

Unexpectedly, a niece, Phoebe Pyncheon, shows up and brings her light into the dark, rotting house and floundering new shop. She cheers up the dazed Clifford and dazzles a lodger, daguerreotypist and sometimes mesmerist named Holgrave. (Aside: though a 19th-century shop is set up in the house in Salem, I cannot picture what gable Holgrave could have lived in. And if the words are unfamiliar, daugerreotypes were forerunners of photographs and mesmerists of hypnotists.)

How the present generation lives out the ancient curse is the primary content of the novel and is fairly ingenious. “The wrong-doing of one generation live into the successive ones” (“the sins of the fathers…”), but a way out is found in The House of Seven Gables (unlike the bleak ending of The Scarlet Letter). What happens is a variant of what happened before (absolution for the original sin? earned by Hepzibah’s long, lonely wait?). The first time clearly was tragedy. The second is not farce, but is romance (Hawthorne’s own label for the book), with a satisfying happy ending of leaving the cursed house behind. I think that Hawthorne adequately foreshadowed the resolution, so that I am not among those who regard it as forced. (Nor do Holgrave’s seeming change of opinions seem implausible to me, another complaint sometimes made about the novel). Besides, art was imitating life: Hawthorne, like Holgrave, changed his tune, found happiness with his own Phoebe, and left Salem on the proceeds (the year before) of the success of The Scarlet Letter. (His three masterpieces were published in the short span of 1850-52.)

©2003, Stephen O. Murray


“Dr. Zhivago”: book and movie

I first read the first translation into English of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago (published in 1958) when I was 13 or 14. I saw David Lean’s 1965 film version when it came out (with my family, when I was 15) then again at a Fairmont drive-in when I was 16 (or possibly 17) and once or twice more before last weekend. I was reading the 2010 retranslation by Richard Peuear and Larissa Volokkonsky (about a fifth of the way through) when I watched the movie on our local PBS station’s broadcast, then finished reading the book.


(first edition, yes, Italian)

Even with the newer, more complete translation, I think the movie was better than the book. The movie has a lot of characters, the book even more, and none who were dropped by screenwriter Robert Bolt (A Man for whose adaptation of his own play won another Oscar the next year) seemed at all essential. The final appearance (to Zhivao, as to the reader) of Stralinkov, who in an earlier life had been Lara’s husband, might have been included, but I see no point in showing Yuri back in Moscow, with a third woman (Marina) devoted to him. She does not appear until the text is 95% over.


The frame of his half-brother (played by Alec Guiness) talking to a young woman he supposes to be the offspring of Yuri and Lara is an addition to the screenplay, though his searching out and helping her is mentioned near the end of the book.

The suffering en route twice to the Ural Mountain town of Yuriatin [modeled on Perm} are more graphically shown in the movie, and the Varykino estate where Uri and Tonya and their son, and then Lara and his daughter have idyllic refugees with Yuri are also much more vivid onscreen than on the page. I think that Ralph Richardson as Tonya’s father and Rod Steiver as Komaovsky, Lara’s seducer and, later, protector, are mugh more vivid onscreen, too.

I remember that there was condescension to Geraldine Chaplin’s Tonya at the time of the film’s release, but she is everything the book’s character is: pretty, conventional, and deeply in love with Yuri, though she knows he does not lover her nearly as much (though the book’s Dr. Zhivago avers his duties to his wife more). In the title role, Omar Sharif did not look like Pasternak’s description (blond-bearded: early on, his hair is brown, later, it is jet black). In both versions Zhivago is a gifted diagnostician who is buffeted by tumultous history, not a hero. I guess that the quality of his poetry has to be taken on faith in the movie, whereas the novel ends very awkwardly with an anthology of his poems. It is difficult to judge poetry in translation, seemingly especially Russian to English (e.g., Pushkin’s).

The movie has one great musical theme that is repeated and repeated and repeated (with not much variation of instrumentation), even more so than the one Maurice Jarre provided for “Lawrence of Arabia. The book, of course, does not have a musical soundtrack, nor is Pasternak’s prose as striking as the cinematography of Freddie Young. And it is easier to keep the characters straight when one sees them rather than having to remember the various forms of reference/address (family name, given name, nickname, never linked together).

The core, the cinematography, the art direction, the costume design, and the adapted screenplay all won Oscars. Adjusted for inflation it was (as of 2016) the eighth highest-grossing in North America film. It was #39 on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of greatest films. Reviewing it for its 30th anniversary, Roger Ebert wrote that it was “an example of superb old-style craftsmanship at the service of a soppy romantic vision”, and wrote that “the story, especially as it has been simplified by Lean and his screenwriter, Robert Bolt, seems political in the same sense ”Gone with the Wind” is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.” I think the book is also rather detached from historical judgment of the revolution. Both portray the Russian Civil War as a succession of horrors, whih is more than I’d say for either book or movie Gone with the Wind.


Rhett (Clark Gable) and Scarlet (Vivien Leigh) in GWTW (1939)

Pasternak’s book is less than half as long as Margaret Mitchell’s, the Zhivago movie not quite as long as GWTW (the highest box-office movie adjusting for inflation). The two are similar in more than being romances set against civil wars: Lara is more domestic than Scarlett O’Hara and loves more men. Tonya is a sweet nebbish married to the weak but much-desired (not least by Scarlett!) Ashley Wilkes. And Zhivago is a less-dashing but similary mustachioed, if less cynical, variant on Rhett Butler. In both movies, the romance swamps any historical analysis. GWTW romanticized slavery, Zhivago did not reomanticize the ancient régime, the revolution, or the civil war (IMO). (The “Tara theme” Max Steiner supplied for GWTW is almost as overused as “Lara’s theme” is in “Zhivago.”)

When first I saw “Zhivago” I was bestotted by Julie Christie, and still cannot be objective, though Geraldine Chaplin and Vivien Leigh are more “my type.” Lara is far less selfish than Scarlett, whereas Lara is a survivor who is more sympathetic than Scarlett. (Tonya is selfless, reminiscent of Melanie in GWTW.fhd965DZV_Rod_Steiger_006@003244.jpg

Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) liquoring up Lara (Julie Christie)

Both movies have iconic scenes and iconic performances (I think Rod Steiger should have been considered for best supporting actor award — [Tom Courtenay was and Olivia de Haviland was for GWTW; I don’t think Omar Sharif was slighted, though he won a Golden Globe award for best actor in a drama; Julie Christie won the best actress awards (Oscar and Golden Globe) for another movie, “Darling” that yearl and Steiger was nominated for the best actor Oscar for “The Pawnbroker”).

In sum, I think the movie version of “Dr. Zhivago” was better, a pretty great movie, based on a historically important, interesting if sprawling novel that was not really a great book. The book’s dialog (admittedly, in translation) seems klunky to me, in many instances not anything I can imagine anyone saying. The movie’s dialog sounds human to me (admittedly, it was written in English). Though a lot of the book’s incidents were included, and I’d say it was a pretty faithful adoption with some simplifications that jettisoned what should have been cut from the novel). I think that turning Tonya’s father from an agronomist into a physician was a good decision. The only cut I question is eliminating the final appearance of Pasha/Strelinkov at Varykino after Lara left (i.e., with only Yuri there). The addition of Yuri thinking he glimpses Lara in Moscow drew some scorn in 1965, but seems to me an echo of mistaking a group for Tonya and her father and son when he is walking back to Yuriatin after deserting the band of retreating partisans who had dragooned him into service as their medical officer, as well as to Yuri’s first glimpse of Lara when they were both children in Moscow.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray


Dürrenmatt’s “Romulus, the Great”

As Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1950 play “Romulus, the Great” begins, A. D. 476. a messenger arrives with news for the last emperor (of the west)  of the latest calamity in the onward march of the barbarian Teutons. The messenger is told to wait a few hours and then go to the daily session of petitioners for audiences. The chamberlain might then set a date for the messenger to see the emperor. The news seems urgent and the messenger catches the emperor passing from inspecting his hens (egg production is Romulus’s seeming primary interest). Romulus rejects the idea of earth-shaking news that must be conveyed: “News never shakes the world. Only events do that, and once we get news of them, they’re over and done and past altering. New only agitates the world: it’s best to get used to as little news as possible.” (So the emperor does seem like Bush or Trump  in incuriosity and Ashcroft or Sessions in blocking the Freedom of Information Act he is supposed to be enforcing…)

durr plays.jpg

Romulus’s wife Julia and daughter Rea are conventionally patriotic and concerned about taking decisive action to save the empire, but Romulus tells Julia, “I don’t want to interfere with the course of history, my dear.” Romulus is concerned about food (gourmets pop up frequently in Dürrenmatt writings) and is selling off furnishings (portrait busts) to cover daily expenses at the run-down villa he has not left since being proclaimed emperor.

A merchant building an international conglomerate specializing in new-fangled trousers offers to pay off the barbarians if Romulus will give Rea to him. Romulus is willing to sell the empire, but not his daughter. However, the merchant, Caesar Rupf, knows that the upkeep of empires is more expensive than profitable (a lesson of history lost on the Ivy League graduate currently extending the American Empire).


The eastern emperor visits from Constantinople with the kind of courtiers who made “Byzantine” an adjective. Rea’s fiancé returns from three years of being misused by Teuton captors. An array of characters want to assassinate the slacker emperor in the third act. He challenges their rationales, taking the role of judge of Rome. After noting that “every state calls itself ‘country’ or ‘nation’ when it is about to commit murder,” he tells his prospective son-in-law, “Rome knew the truth but chose violence. Rome knew humaneness, but chose tyranny…”

And, finally, the barbarians are through the gate and the Teuton chieftain, Odoaker, discusses chickens, ambitions, conquests, tyranny, etc. with the last emperor. Romulus turns out to have a more complex agenda than his courtiers and womenfolk realized. But if there is a leitmotif in Dürrenmatt it is “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” and both Odoaker’s and Romulus’s very interesting ones are frustrated.

What starts as a farce, and continues with fairly anachronistically modern businessmen and bureaucrats, ends as a philosophical tragedy. The version I once saw on stage (not the translation here, but an adaptation by Gore Vidal whose view of empires is close to Romulus’s) played well, too. Dürrenmatt is certainly a modern bard laying out the perils of hubris, and entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Dürrenmatt’s The Quarry

I was  disappointed by the second of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s three short detective novels, The Quarry (Der Verdacht, also published as Suspicion, 1951), which brings back the terminally ill Berne police commissioner Barlach from The Judge and His Hangman. While hospitalized, he happens to see a photograph in an old issue of LIFE magazine showing a concentration camp doctor operating without anesthetic. Barlach’s physician, Hungertobel, blanches on seeing the photo and admits that there is a strong resemblance (including a scar) to one of his colleagues, who has become the head of a clinic for the rich outside Zurich.


At the policeman’s insistence Hungertobel arranges for Barlach to be transferred to that clinic on New Year’s Eve, an extremely rash way to conduct an investigation of someone suspected of torturing patients (dating back to service as Dr. Nehle in the Third Reich). The suspect, who has the detective de facto imprisoned and set to be another person who does not survive surgery, and an associate who had been a concentration camp prisoner before becoming his mistress, speak freely—and metaphysically—with Barlach.

There is little suspense, though a deus ex machina is set up skillfully (albeit the character is quite outlandish a one). Careful planning by characters in Dürrenmatt’s work generally runs aground on unexpected coincidences, but in this instance the plan is very poorly conceived. Commissioner Barlach’s flexibility in The Judge and His Hangman (1950) was much reduced in the sequel. A later just-retired detective still pursuing justice (in the third Dürrenmatt detective novel, The Pledge) is a better example of Dürrenmatt’s leitmotif “The more human beings proceed according to plan, the more effectively they may be hit be coincidence,” and both of those other two detective novels are superior to The Quarry.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray