chief inspector konstantin dühnfort, munich

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(no English version of the series available so far!)

Basically, he was conservative and found nothing wrong with it. He would not be suitable as a blueprint for a TV detective inspector, his life was too normal for that. He was the man next door who had no trauma attached to his profession that turned him into a drunkard and chain smoker, nor did he have a series of failed relationships that turned him into a lone wolf. He was also not the bad cop who, if necessary, used violence and disregarded all the rules that applied to police investigators – and there were quite a few – to enforce the law by trampling it underfoot. On the contrary, he stuck to it, because after all, all the evidence that his team and he gathered should ultimately stand up in court and not be torn to pieces by a defence lawyer who had been water-washed with all water, because it had been obtained illegally and thus a procedural ban applied.

from: Sieh nichts Böses (own translation)

Violence and Prosperity

We are in Munich and beyond in the greater Munich area – and we are on a prosperous society level. Doctors, lawyers, architects, middle-class people, rich farmers live here: people who have made their way and their small or even larger fortune and live on the sunny side. They have families and children who are also supposed to make their way – and sometimes that goes wrong.

In other words, we are not digging around in the squalor of society to solve crimes involving the homeless, Hartz4ers, casual workers, hookers, fixers, illegals, rent hounds, pimps and social workers – the typical crime scene ambience of the long-lasting German Tatort Tv series. However, prosperity doesn’t mean that we are not dealing with cholerics, despots, child molesters, legacy hunters, cheats, beating husbands, over-indebted company bosses, traumatised victims and …

… and they all somehow and at some point meet Chief Inspector Konstantin Dühnfort: no one calls him Konstantin, by the way – everyone calls him Tino. He comes from Hamburg and has moved to Munich. It was his successful and renowned father’s wish that Tino should also become an outstanding lawyer and criminal defence attorney – just like he himself. Tino could not cope with this and at the latest when a murderer got off lightly due to his father’s actions, he realised that he wanted to be on the other side. He consequently dropped out of law school and joined the police. To avoid conflicts with his father in court, he had himself transferred to Munich quite quickly. His father was not enthusiastic, but he still had Tino’s brother Julius, who became exactly what his father wanted. Tino’s mother is a painter and has lived apart from his father for years. Like her, Tino is an outsider in the family (I don’t want to say black sheep …), but only slowly over the years does he come closer to his father again.

Tino loves the good life: he likes to cook Italian food, loves Italian delicacies and often buys something quick for dinner at the Viktualienmarkt, a renowned Munich location. He can’t live without espresso and has enriched his office at police headquarters with a professional espresso machine. When he’s stressed, he stuffs himself with dark chocolate. He doesn’t think much of sports, but buys a sailing boat with which he wants to sail across Lake Starnberg – a reminder of the sailing trips of his youth on the North Sea. When he then sets sail for the first time, it almost goes wrong because he makes a beginner’s mistake and nearly drowns. His favourite word, by the way, is merde.

Tino realises in the course of the novels that he wants to start a family. He lives next to a woman for a long time without realising that she loves him, loves him idolatrously … more of that later. (They get together, of course, and start planning the family).

An explicit hint: Tino loves espresso, he is clever and friendly, he is persistent and sincere, he loves dark chocolate and he can cook fantastically. Is there a woman who wouldn’t want something like that by her side?

The novels are always about revenge, a late revenge on the family that abandoned the perpetrator decades ago, humiliated him, abused him. Incest, child abuse and maltreatment are among the central themes that lead from the past to crimes today. Children take revenge on their parents, incest victims cannot let go of their parents and look for substitute figures to torture and kill. Young children are kidnapped, young women die who do not adhere to self-made, twisted moral codes. Innocent culprits are held accountable in vigilante justice. Greed seduces children into murder. Parents want to protect and promote their children, which leads to a social hunt for supposed false friends. Revenge gets out of hand, can no longer be controlled and leads to the death of several people. A son kills ruthlessly to get his inheritance; a woman kills just as cold-bloodedly to fulfil her life’s dream, as she learned to do in her childhood.

Each novel represents a small universe in itself: it begins ostensibly with a crime, then others follow, then deeds of the past come to light, then deeds of marginal figures come to light and cover-ups require their toll of blood. The stories are not only told from Tino’s point of view, but other characters and the perpetrator also have their say. There is no singular relationship between perpetrator and victim that is unravelled by the police. There are many fates that are interwoven or knotted together and that develop for good or evil.

Of course, Tino is not swimming alone in this mess. His two closest associates are Gina Angelucci and Alois Fünfanger. Alois and Tino are quite different: Tino always in smart casual, Alois with a tailored suit and tailored shoes – Tino with a slight bellyline, Alois well-toned – Tino alone, longing for a family, Alois as the father of an illegitimate child with always new girlfriends … Alois is only 3 years younger than Tino and wants to make a career, but he is not as conscientious as Tino. All this leads to tensions between the two of them, but they gradually come together, especially after Alois saves Tino’s life.

And then comes Gina … madly in love with Tino, from a rather alternative-minded extended family … It takes a long time for Tino to realise that Gina loves him and that he loves Gina. They finally get together, move in together … and their professional paths consequently have to part. Gina goes to the Cold Cases department.

Tino gets a new colleague: Kirsten Tessmann. Kirsten carries around a lot of emotional baggage. Her husband shot himself in front of her, her teenage daughter has turned away, her in-laws are making a fuss about her … but professionally she is exceptionally good.

In addition, of course, there are the usual suspects like the prosecutor, the pathologist, the computer geek who doesn’t look like a police officer but solves all the problems with mobile phones, social networks, the internet and notebooks. The forensics team goes down CSI paths and is always overworked. They all play their usual roles, but they are all human. They have their quirks, their preferences, their own lives, which are intermingled with work and criminal cases, but remain down-to-earth.

Down-to-earth is a characteristic of this series of crime novels. The crimes are cruel and disgusting, the escalation of violence and the effects on innocent people are terrible, but we are in the middle of normal life in Munich. Everything that happens can happen to us at any time. We move in a social class that is the same everywhere.

It is the apparent normality behind which brutality and horror are hidden. Everything is outwardly peaceful and harmonious. The crimes do not suddenly fall from the sky, but everything has a prehistory and has developed over the decades. Fathers who wanted to mould their sons to their will, child abuse that was hushed up because it did not fit into the image of the family and society. Everything takes revenge … on the guilty and the innocent who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The novels are exciting and always deliver surprising twists. The author is not out to portray action and extreme crimes by serial offenders at any price. Rather, she shows our normal life in a social class where at first no one suspects brutality and crime, but under the clean, polished surface it seethes all the more violently. The novels also show that reality (even if fictional) can be worse and more terrifying than carefully crafted novel plots set beyond our reality. Perhaps that is why the novels get under the skin so much.

What else?

A spin-off has been published in which Gina Angelucci plays the main role as an investigator in Cold Cases – apart from that, the novels fit the concept and the overall picture of the original series.

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a faint cold fear thrills through my veins ... william shakespeare