Krajewski, Marek - 'End of the World in Breslau' (translated by Danusia Stok)
Criminal Councillor Eberhard Mock has two puzzling deaths on his hands: the first, a man bound and gagged and bricked-up behind a wall, left to die, the second, a man who's been quartered and his fingers severed. Apart from their barbarity, nothing links the cases, apart from that at each scene a page from a calendar is left, with the date of death marked in blood. However, that's not all he has on his hands: Mock's wife is giving him trouble. Though it's mostly his own fault. And as Mock continues to disappoint poor Sophie, she moves further away from him and becomes closer to her friend Elizabeth, a woman who has a very strange relationship with a local Baron, and it's a relationship that Sophie is gradually drawn into, potentially with disastrous consequences. And as the life of Breslau in the mid 20s revolves onwards to disaster, Mock, while desperately pursuing his wayward wife, finds himself stumbling across a cult that's preaching the imminent end of the world, in Breslau.
It took me a while to get used to the style of the first book in the series, DEATH IN BRESLAU, but when I did I really enjoyed it. Having tried it previously, it was a lot easier to get into in this book, which I was pleased with because I've sensed from the start that if the effort can made to get into these eccentrically written books, then there would definitely be something special to be had. And there is.
One of the things I appreciate most about translated fiction is how different it is, and there's almost no better example of that than this series. This is a noir novel of the American school, but set in an early twentieth century Polish city, with a police investigator who knows much better the dark side of life than the light, who has a shaky moral compass, enjoys brothels and gambling, and takes care to know the dark secrets of everyone around him, so he can essentially do exactly as he likes. Like a kind of shadier, more vice-ridden, slightly less scrupulous version of Aurelio Zen. It's not a remotely piercing statement to say that Eberhard Mock is the best part of this series. Close second is the atmosphere of Breslau, dark and dirty and dangerous, full of poverty.
Krajewski's dark plotting is another matter. It can be rambling, moves in stops and starts, and the main plot can have a disconcerting habit of being overtaken by other sub-stories. However, it works. It's dark, and weird, and eccentric, and somehow it seems to mirror real life. The plotting seems to, like Mock, take care of itself: it goes where it wants, does what it wants, and eventually ends up in the right place!
I'm increasingly looking forward to the coming entries in this eccentric, original series. So far this year (even though it's early-on!), we've had some great entries from the stable of foreign crime-writers, Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen in particular. But so far, this wry, dark piece of fiction is my favourite. I think I'd buy them just for the remarkable covers!
Read another review of END OF THE WORLD IN BRESLAU.
Fiona Walker, England