Friedrich the great
The Chinaman has Studer (once a high police official, but kicked off the force years earlier and forced to start again from the bottom) investigating the death of a man who had calmly made preparations for the possibility of his own murder. As in the earlier books, the settings are small and tightly circumscribed: a village inn, a horticultural college, a poorhouse. The latter two are the occasions for some bitter observations on Studer's part, but sympathy is more characteristic of his approach, sympathy akin to that sometimes displayed by Georges Simenon's Maigret, to whom Studer has been compared.
There is enough traditional mystery to The Chinaman that I'll avoid saying any more about the plot, except that money and another death are involved. Sympathy even more intense than Maigret's (and, it seems to me, than Studer's own in the earlier novels), guides the sergeant in his investigation here, as does antipathy toward interfering, corrupt and viciously condescending know-it-alls.
As for the humor and fun, how about Studer's sly observation that "detective novels seemed popular in Pfründisberg" -- Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, and, yes, Simenon. Or how about the unconventional assistant Studer acquires, a heartbreakingly earnest young man whose snoring keeps Studer awake when they are compelled to share a room at the inn? And there is keen social comedy in a friend's assessment of Studer's career prospects:
"Studer, I told him, would probably never get beyond sergeant. In the first place he hadn't got any relatives ... and in the second place we like to keep competent people in subordinate positions and only use them when it's absolutely necessary. Then we can order them around, so everything's OK."
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Swiss crime fiction