Krajewski, Marek - 'The Minotaur's Head' (translated by Danusia Stok)
The fourth book in the Eberhard Mock series begins in Lwow 1939 when Detective Popielski refuses to lead an investigation into the case of a boy, who people say was ritually murdered by Jews. Popielski explains why to his cousin Leokadia with whom he lives.
" ..But it's a terribly long story to do with the case of the Minotaur."
The reader is then taken back to New Year's Day 1937 in the Silesian city of Breslau, where Eberhard Mock is ordered to investigate the murder of a young virgin whose face has been eaten by the murderer.
He had left the police for the Abwehr (German Army Intelligence) in 1934. He could not bear to watch scum from the Gestapo penetrate his world like syphilitic pathogens and turn everything upside down.
Mock works out that the murdered girl has arrived on a train from Lwow with a young handsome man passing himself off as a woman. Two years earlier there had been similar cases in Lwow, and the head of the Gestapo in Breslau, unlike Mock, a teetotaller and vegetarian, orders him to co-operate with the Polish police.
" you're off to the wild Jew-ridden country of underpeople"
But Mock is not one to accept rough treatment even from the Gestapo, and replies
"And do you know what, sir? He ground the stub beneath his shoe. Lemberg's not so barbaric after all: Commissioner Popielski speaks better German than you do.
There is almost a symmetry in the combination of Mock from Breslau, and Popielski from Lwow, a city of mathematicians. Breslau, was once a German city with an assimilated Jewish population and a Polish minority. Now it exists as Wroclau with a homogeneous Polish population. Lwow, was Lemberg under the Austro-Hungarians before the First World War; it became Lwow under the Polish Republic, Lvov under the Soviets, and Lviv in the new post Soviet Ukraine.
Mock and Popielski have much in common, their love of chess, they are both classicists, bon viveurs, inclined to brutality, and neither is averse to intimate relations with prostitutes. They form an alliance to chase down the Minotaur following up reports of similar attacks in which faces have been eaten; a trail which leads them to erudite mathematical societies, drinking dens and psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile Popielski has to struggle to control his wayward young and very beautiful daughter Rita, who naturally attracts and is attracted to the wrong sort of men.
Krajewski's style, or perhaps it is his translator Danusia Stok, is unusual almost archaic but I think it successfully conveys the atmosphere of the strange lost world of multicultural Eastern Europe fairly accurately. Perhaps the decadence and brutality of the protagonists seem more acceptable in that very foreign and historical setting.
THE MINOTAUR'S HEAD may be a bit difficult to absorb if you haven't read the three previous books, but it is so brilliantly evocative that you can smell the cigar smoke and taste the herrings and the beer as you read. The characters are memorable, ranging from the deranged through the unpleasant to the obnoxious. The tension is ratcheted up as the police close in on the Minotaur. When serious complications arise the ending is briskly believable, and leaves this reader hoping for more from the pen of Marek Krajewski.Investigo, ergo sum - I detect, therefore I am Marek Krajewski is a lecturer in Classical Studies at the University of Wroclaw, and his Eberhard Mock novels have enjoyed massive success in Poland and Germany.
Norman Price, England