The Basel Killings by Hansjörg Schneider, Mike Mitchell (Translator)

It is the end of October, the city of Basel is grey and wet. It could be December. It is just after midnight when Police Inspector Peter Hunkeler, on his way home and slightly worse for wear, spots old man Hardy sitting on a bench under a street light. He wants to smoke a cigarette with him, but the usually very loquacious Hardy is silent―his throat a gaping wound. Turns out he was first strangled, then his left earlobe slit, his diamond stud stolen. The media and the police come quickly to the same conclusion: Hardy’s murder was the work of a gang of Albanian drug smugglers. But for Hunkeler that seems too obvious. Hardy’s murder has much in common with the case of Barbara Amsler, a prostitute also found killed, with an ear slit and pearl stud missing. He follows his own intuition and the trail leads him deep into an edgy world of bars, bordellos and strip clubs, but also into the corrupt core of some of Basel’s political and industrial elite. More ominously, he will soon discover the consequences of certain events in recent Swiss history that those in power would prefer to keep far from the public eye.


I am not sure why The Basil Killings didn’t grab me. It could be that I am in a bit of a funk reading wise. Or it could be that the character didn’t resonate with me. I haven’t had much luck with Scandinavian books in translation lately.

It is sort of Swiss crime noir, I guess. Quirky, grumpy, often troublemaking, but also often very insightful police detective seeks to solve seemingly unsolvable crime while under pressure from authorities and his girlfriend (not to mention his doctor).

The best part of the book was the novel setting and culture; seeing a different part of the world through someone else’s eyes. But I can’t say that I was wowed by the writing or the storyline. The element of the gypsies was interesting but the book didn’t pack much of an emotional punch. Perhaps if you were a native that emotional element would be built in, but I didn’t feel it.

If you are looking for a different sort of crime story, this might be for you. I enjoyed it but wasn’t pulled into it like I have been by other novels in this genre.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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