Death in Summer by Michael Theurillat

Review published on August 10, 2018.

When Philipp Bettlach, an eminent local banker, is shot dead on a golf course in Zurich, Inspector Eschenbach is called in to investigate the murder. Twelve years earlier, aged thirty-eight, he had been appointed as head CID, Zurich Police Department’s youngest ever chief, so he is not an inexperienced investigator. However, he soon realises that, with no witnesses to the crime, and no obvious motive, his investigations are likely to prove difficult. When there is a second death in Basle, of a man who appears to have a link with the murder victim, the inspector hopes that this will help his investigations, but nothing is straightforward in uncovering the complex, dark and secretive life the banker had been living.

At the heart of this crime novel is a labyrinthine web of relationships and family secrets which has enabled the family and friends of the murder victim to become complicit in covering up some dark and disturbing behaviour. As the inspector’s investigations slowly begin to uncover these, he becomes increasingly frustrated that the influence of some high-ranking people, determined that these secrets should not be revealed, are making his job more difficult.

This is not a fast-moving story, in fact there were moments during the first half of the book when I felt frustrated by what felt like a rather ponderous investigation which, at times, seemed to be missing out on exploring what, to me, felt like some obvious lines of enquiry. However, because I was finding the happily married, espresso-drinking, knobbly Brissago cigarillo-smoking inspector an interesting character, I decided to cut him some slack! I’m pleased that I did because the second half of the story became much more gripping and psychologically convincing, making it a four, rather than a three-star read.

Although I had guessed some of the intricacies of the resolution, there were some last-minute surprises in store which added considerably both to the tension, and to my enjoyment. Without going into detail of one of the central lines of enquiry (which would be a spoiler!), I thought that some of the darker elements of the investigation, and the effects of these on various members of the team, were very convincingly handled. The descriptions of Zurich gripped by an enervating heatwave were very evocative and did much to add to a sense of torpor about the pace of the investigation. It was as though all the energy had been drained from the people and the location and huge effort was needed just to keep going. Several references to life in Switzerland brought the country into focus, again providing an extra dynamic to the developing story.

The inspector’s relationships with Claudio Jagmetti, his inexperienced but keen junior officer, his delightful secretary of ten years Rosa Mazzoleni, who always knows the best places to eat and stay, and his boss, Elisabeth Kobler added an interesting dimension to the developing story and, knowing that this is the first book in the series to be translated into English, I feel keen to get to know them all better – so I hope it won’t be long before the second book is translated!

Although I enjoyed this as a personal read, I do think that reading groups would probably struggle to find enough topics for any stimulating discussion.

Linda Hepworth 4/2

Death in Summer by Michael Theurillat
Zaffre 9781785767241 pbk Aug 2018

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