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Mystery set in Basel

13th January 2022

Silver Pebbles by Hansjörg Scheider, mystery set in Basel. Translated by Mike Mitchell. No. 2 in the Inspector Hunkeler investigates series.

Mystery set in Basel

A neat novel created by a master storyteller. Diamonds are being smuggled into Switzerland from Germany but the smuggler is intercepted and he deftly drops his stash down the toilet. The glittering stones land in the sewer system where Erdogan Civil happens to be busy unblocking an underground junction in the system. He discovers the shiny items and recognises them for what they are, and, of course, hides them away. They now belong to him. His partner Erika, however, is grimly aware that purloining a stash such as this is not without significant dangers.

Inevitably, the smuggling ring cannot simply ignore the disappearance of their precious property and their operative is soon outwitting the police to retrieve the diamonds. Inspector Peter Hunkeler is on the trail of the gang members.

It is very much a caper around Basel and environs and all the while the snow is falling, clogging the thoroughfares. The icy coldness makes an excellent backdrop to story. The story is set when it was still common to smoke in trains and restaurants and political correctness was perhaps just  in its infancy.

My issue with the novel is the standard of translation – much like a curate’s egg, with the occasional stilted and wooden interpretation of the original Swiss German. Do English readers expect to see “genital organs”? And I have no idea what this means:  “…she could go out walking in her body”; and “she… placed her buttocks on the back seat” (now that conjures up a strange image!). Yes, there is dry humour in the novel but somehow it really does not fully translate into smooth prose, you can invariably hear the German rattling along in the background.

Nevertheless it’s a very readable novel with delightful European flair.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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