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23 september 2017

Milchgeld, by Volker Klüpfel and Michael Kobr, is a leisurely Krimi set in the idyllic dairylands at the feet of the Bavarian Alps. They say that it gets harder to solve a murder case as each day passes, but in the Allgäu, the detective squad operates on a scale of weeks or longer, interspersing their extremely gradual collection of clues with all sorts of local-color digressions and minute character notes.

For all that, you have to like Milchgeld and its inspector, Kommissar Kluftinger – middle-aged and mildly neurotic. Kluftinger is much closer to Donna Leon's Brunetti than to Henning Mankell's Wallander. Kluftinger is set in his ways and can be prickly at times, but he seems driven by no demon stronger than occasional indigestion.

Milchgeld means "milk money," and becomes the occasion for puns at several points in the novel. Alfred Komarek's Polt muß weinen features murder against a background of Austrian wine production; Arnaldur Indriðason's Todesrosen sets murder in the context of Icelandic fishing quotas; Milchgeld gives us intrigue and death in the cheese industry of Bavaria.

Kluftinger has more than a professional interest in cheese. He is torn from a dish of his beloved Kässpatzen by a call from his office: a top cheese scientist has been strangled with a curtain cord. What kind of curtain cord, Kluftinger's wife asks. There are different kinds? Kluftinger replies.

It's that sort of detective novel, a cosy despite the deadly earnestness of its perps and the midlife crises of its protagonist. Yet as with many a corporate Krimi, there is an undertone of serious analysis. The fat foothills of the south of Germany, with their family farms and personable, individually-belled cows, are giving way to agribusiness. To keep pace with the behemoths in the field, smaller cheese manufacturers are under pressure to rush production schedules, to cut safety corners, to source doubtfully, to create foods that are more and more artificial. There's Geld in the resulting Schnellkäse, but there's also the loss of a way of life, and stress that explodes into murder.

Klüpfel, Volker, and Michael Kobr. Milchgeld. 2006. München: Piper, 2008.