Marek Krajewski’s Eberhard Mock Series
Considered Poland's premiere detective novelist, Krajewski has conjured up his series of five Chandleresque novels set in the city we now know as Wrocław. His city straddles the German-Polish divide, as prewar Breslau and postwar Wrocław - along with the divide between the rational and irrational, and even the natural and supernatural. It is a city in the grip of the Gestapo, a place where spies are everywhere, where corrupt ministers torture confessions from Jewish merchants, and where Freemasons guard their secrets with blackmail and violence.
Four books in the series - Death in Breslau, The End of the World in Breslau, Phantoms of Breslau and The Minotaur’s Head - have been published by Quercus Books in the U.K. to great acclaim. In the U.S., the books are released by Melville House.
Death in Breslau starts with a gruesome find: two young women, murdered on a train, scorpions writhing on their bodies, an indecipherable note nearby in an apparently Oriental language. As Eberhard Mock and his assistant plunge into the city’s squalid underbelly, the case takes on a dark twist of the occult when the mysterious note seems to indicate a ritual killing with roots in the Crusades.
In the second of the Mock novels, The End of the World in Breslau, a man's body is discovered that was walled up alive; another has been dissected, his fingers chopped off. Krajewski's caustic protagonist plunges headlong into bordellos, gambling joints and bathhouses, to track down a particularly savage murderer. Mock is hardly in a position to make too many moral judgements, but even he is given pause by a series of drug-fuelled aristocratic orgies.
Phantoms of Breslau has Criminal Assistant Mock arrive at the scene to investigate the murder of four young sailors. He discovers a note addressed to him, asking him to confess his sins and to become a believer. As he endeavours to piece together the elements of this brutal crime, Mock is drawn into an insidious game: it seems that anyone he questions during the course of the investigation is destined to become the murderer's next victim.
In the latest title of the series, The Minotaur’s Head, a young girl - and suspected spy - is found dead in her hotel room, the flesh torn from her cheek by her assailant's teeth. Ill at ease with the increasingly open integration of SS, Gestapo and police, Mock is partially relieved to be assigned to liaison with officers in Lvov, Poland, where a series of similar crimes cast a long shadow over the town. In Lvov he joins Commissioner Popielski, a fellow classicist who relies on a highly unorthodox method of deduction...
Miłoszewski’s Modern Ordeals of Dubious Origin
While Krajewski’s novels exploit the picturesque, fantastic possibilities of Poland’s wartime history, Miloszewski deals with the distress and jeopardies of contemporary, everyday life. The thorny topics wittily faced by Miłoszewski are set within a realistic portrayal of today’s Poland, and it is precisely this setting - plus a flawed and attractive protagonist - that appeal to his growing readership.
Entanglement, Miłoszewski’s first novel to be published in English, was also made into a successful film in 2011, directed by Jacek Bromski. It begins the morning after a gruelling psychotherapy session in a Warsaw monastery. Henryk Telak is found dead, a roasting spit stuck in one eye. The case lands on the desk of State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki. World-weary, suffering from bureaucratic exhaustion and marital ennui, Szacki feels that life has passed him by, but this case changes everything. His search for the killer unearths another murder that took place 20 years earlier, before the fall of Communism. The trail leads to facts that, for his own safety, he’d be better off not knowing.
The second book by Miłoszewski, A Grain of Truth, was also recently published by Bitter Lemon Press. Moving his sleuthing protagonist from the capital to provincial Sandomierz in southeast Poland, Miłoszewski delves into history once more, when a series of seemingly ritual murders force Szacki to delve into the tangled realm of Polish-Jewish relations. Yet, according to the author, while depicting the failure of provincial Polish society to cope with its anti-Semitic past, the book is really touching to the quick of Polish-Polish relations, in an attempt at facing its unadorned history.
21:37 by Mariusz Czubaj
Released in April 2013 in the English translation by Anna Hyde, Czubaj’s novel casts the miserable, pain-struck guitar player, Rudolf Heinz, as its hero. Althoug his life is a failure and his son avoids him, Heinz has an unparalleled talent in one field - tracking down serial killers. When the police find the dead bodies of two young men, their heads covered in plastic bags marked with the numbers 21 and 37, Heinz faces his most challenging case.
Taking on a killer who likes to play games, the investigation is complicated when Heinz discovers the victims are priests, and the local police close ranks against him. As he analyzes each lead, Heinz’s search for the killer pushes him deep into his own past, unaware that he will soon have to save his own life. And he’s running out of time…
Written in 2008, the novel is Czubaj’s first book on Rudolf Heinz, and the first one to be released in English. In 2009 the book received the High Calibre Award for the best Polish crime novel. Czubaj has also collaborated with Marek Krajewski on Aleja samobójców / The Avenue of Suicides (2008) and Róże cmentarne / Graveyard Roses (2009).
Joanna Jodełka’s Polychromed Felonies
Following in the footsteps of Czubaj, Jodełka was the winner of the High Calibre Award in 2010 - the first woman to receive the award - for her debut novel, and her book is released in Danusia Stok’s English translation in July 2013. Adding to the array of somewhat flawed mystery-solving heroes, Jodełka casts Maciej Bartol in the centre of her plot. A police detective, Bartol throws a long shadow over those around him - although in truth his mother always seems to have the last word.
He is called to investigate two very different death scenes – an art restorer in the most prominent part of Poznań, and a man who runs a homeless shelter. Are the killings linked? What is the meaning of the strange clues left by the killer? Soon the desperate Bartol finds himself asking for help from specialist on Christian symbolism, a woman who isn’t too happy to waste her time on a police investigation…
Joanna Jodełka’s Polychrome was followed by Grzechotka / The Rattle (2011).
Witkowski’s Crooked Crime
The publisher &otherpress reveals its plans to bring out one Poland’s most flagrant young writer’s crime… spoof! Known for his unabashed descriptions of the Polish gay underground, Michał Witkowski (born 1975) released the Drwal / Lumberjack in 2011.
Though structurally a crime novel, the book is a literary and a stylistic game. In a shamless self-portrait, Witkowski has a 36-year-old writer named Michał travel out of season to a holiday resort on the Baltic coast, planning to write a crime novel. Instead he ends up investigating his mysterious host at the old forestry lodge, a man with a past that goes back to the communist-era roots of this small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Witty, playful, extremely inventive linguistically, it uses the plot as a surprising excuse for some high comedy. Excerpts are available in English at the Book Institute website.
The Polish Motive in English Crime
Another title to borrow from Poland’s history for its nail-biting plot is the 2012 crime novel by William Brodrick, the acclaimed author of The Sixth Lamentation (a Richard & Judy selection) and A Whispered Name (winner of the CWA Gold Dagger).
In The Day of the Lie, Father Anselm, the brilliant Benedictine, receives a visit from an old friend with a dangerous story to tell - the story of a woman betrayed by time, fate, and someone close to her. As a young woman, Roza Mojeska was part of an underground resistance group in Communist Poland. After her arrest, an agent of secret police makes her a devil's bargain, and in the dark of a government prison, a terrible choice is made… Now, 50 years later, Anselm is called upon to investigate both Roza's story and a mystery dating back to the early 1980s, during the icy grip of the Cold War. And as he peels back years of history, decades of secrets and a half-century of lies, he exposes a truth that victim and torturer would keep hidden.
With a gripping blurb by Emlyn Rees on its cover - "RIP Nordic crime, here come the Poles!" - Where The Devil Can't Go by journalist Anya Lipska (who's married to a Pole) is set in East London’s contemporary Polish community. There, life’s already complicated enough for unofficial fixer Janusz Kiszka. His priest is nagging him to find a missing waitress, a builder on the Olympics site owes him a pile of money, and he’s falling for married Kasia, Soho’s most straitlaced stripper. But when he finds himself pursued by drug-dealing gangsters and accused of murder by a tough young female detective, Natalie Kershaw, Janusz is forced to take an unscheduled mini-break to Poland to find the real killer. In the mist-wreathed medieval streets of his hometown of Gdańsk, Janusz must confront painful memories from the Soviet past. His search for answers will lead him to the sinister country house of an old Communist secret policeman.
In an interview for www.crimefictionlover.com, Lipska explained her choice of setting the plot of Where The Devil Can’t Go amongst London’s Polish community:
Many people have had contact with a Polish builder or cleaner, but probably know little about the country’s rich culture and recent history. [...] The drinking habits, sexual mores, politics and religion of ex-pat Poles seem foreign to native Brits, but at the same time remind us of how we used to be some decades ago: a reserved, churchgoing people who value duty, and enjoy a good drink but retain a suspicion of authority. It inspired what I hope is a rich cast of characters – from priests to pole dancers, and stern matriarchs to petty smugglers.
Author: Paulina Schlosser; 9.06.2013
Sources: press release, polishinstitute.org.uk, www.independent.co.uk, bitterlemonpress.com, www.crimefictionlover.com, wordswithoutborders.org, http://www.andotherstories.org