Scandinavian authors watch out! The era of Polish crime writers is nearing. A couple of months ago, The New York Times and The Independent foresaw the rise of Polish authors. Miłoszewski, Krajewski, Bator, Wroński, Tokarczuk may soon succeed Nesbø, Larsson and Mankell as the masters of crime novels.
Polish authors keenly took to the criminal genre. While only four criminal novels appeared in 2003, ten years later as many as 112 crime mysteries were published.
From paper to screen
With the rise in the popularity of crime novels, the interest of film and TV producers in getting the protagonists of the stories to assume physical form grows too.
Agnieszka Holland is working on adapting Olga Tokarczuk's moral thriller Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead for the big screen. The film director's work will be known as Pokot and the plot deals with human treatment of animals, with actress Stanisława Celińska in the lead role. Borys Lankosz, known in Poland for his film Reverse, recently finished shooting an adaptation of Zygmunt Miłoszewski's A Grain of Truth which will premiere in September 2015. Miłoszewski is praised as having developed the best Polish crime novels and an outstanding series about the investigations of prosecutor Teodor Szacki. Other upcoming crime books turned into cinema include Marek Krajewski's Death in Breslau, adapted into a series by Agnieszka Holland and coming out in 2015, and Krystian Bali's Amok, adapted by Holland's daughter Kasia Adamik with the cooperation of a Swedish and German production team. The master of the genre Zygmunt Miłoszewski is working on a script for a ten episode series called Prosecutor. The plot will revolve around a retired prosecutor and a young policeman who solve crimes together.
Awaiting the dawn of Polish crime novel authors, we take a look at the history of crime story protagonists. Who were the detectives that shaped today's Polish crime novel protagonist?
Investigators from behind the Iron Curtain
Kapitan Sowa na tropie - 1965
A bastion of old-fashioned charm and style in the People's Republic of Poland. He wore black leather jackets and smoked Silesia brand cigarettes. While he couldn't kick his smoking habit, he could always kick some on-screen criminal butt. Created by Stanisław Bareja, the programme was the first Polish TV crime series.
07 Come In - 1976-1987
Gunrunners and smugglers, art forgers, gangsters, car thieves and murderers - Lieutenant Sławomir Borewicz knew them all like the back of his hand. Course and brutish but with incredible deductive reasoning, the militia man was a mainstay of Polish TV. In the People's Republic of Poland, he was a role-model of manhood.
Given the requirements set by the communist censors who scrutinised every film and series, Krzysztof Szmagier created a series that served as propaganda for improving the image of the Citizen's Militia and showing the strength of the communist country. Nevertheless, 07 Come In was highly popular and appeared on TV between 1976 and 1987. Later on, the Chinese bought the rights to it and screened it in their own communist paradise.
Na kłopoty... Bednarski - 1986
In communist Poland, most on-screen detective heroes who came to save the day were officers of the Militia (communist police) or the Security Bureau. Bednarski was an exception. He was a private detective (played by Stefan Friedman) who solved criminal cases in the Free City of Danzig.
Funny and flirtatious, he was a true ladies man who ensured that investigative brilliance and amorous exploits went hand in hand.
Beautiful New World?
Extradition - 1995-1997
When Lieutenant Borewicz went into retirement at the end of communism, the newly free country needed a new tough guy. The well-known actor Marek Kondrat kick started his career by portraying a tough but honest policeman named Olgierd Halski. On 90s Polish TV, Warsaw was plagued by the Russian mafia and Halski was tasked with hunting down and destroying them.
Cop - 2003-2008
Andrzej Grajewski, played by Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, picked up where Halski had left off. In Władysław Pasikowski's film, detective Grajewski is like Philip Marlowe, rather unpleasant but amiable. "I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings," as Marlowe used to say.
Radziwiłowicz's performance was legendary. His deep voice coupled with his emotional aloofness created the definitive movie detective. Tired and broken-down, he strongly reminds of Kurt Wallander, the character created by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. His private life was always in tatters, his relationships were constantly put to the test and the world didn't express gratitude for his professional skill and devotion.
Pitbull - 2005-2008
Polish crime series portray Warsaw like a demonic wasteland ruled by the mafia. Extradition and Cop gave hope that justice can be found. Patryk Vega's Pitbull, on the other hand, made cop and robber two sides of the same coin.
The series main protagonist was Despero (Marcin Dorociński) - a hardheaded, matter-of-fact thirty-something-year old. His crime fighting unit is made up of drunkards and cynics who take bribes and visit brothels (played by Andrzej Grabowski, Janusz Gajos, Krzysztof Stroiński, Rafał Mohr).
Vega's series was well received by critics. He introduces crime stories in a paradocumentary format, with characters inspired by real life people. The lead was inspired by Sławomir Opala, a man jailed for his role in organised crime groups who committed suicide in 2014. Pitbull has been made as a TV series and feature film.
Paradox - 2011
No list of screen detectives would be complete without the actor Bogusław Linda, a 90s icon of masculinity. Thanks to films by Pasikowski and Ślesicki, Linda became Poland's number 1 macho.
In Paradox, Linda plays Kaszowski, a bureaucracy-hating, law-breaking cop. Modelled on The Killing, Paradox was well-received by critics but left viewers indifferent. The series was watched by "only" 1.1 million viewers and wasn't renewed after the first season.
Instinct - 2011
Anna Oster (played by Danuta Stenka), is a mysterious female detective who is assigned to a well-integrated team of policemen. Through hard work, she manages to convince her new co-workers that she's the right person to lead some cases.
This is Patryk Vega's second romance with crime series. While Pitbull showed the seedy side of policework, in Instinct the creator no longer indulged in that vision. Anna Oster was a great guide to the world of crime and a female lead fit in with viewers' preferences yet that wasn't enough to pull the series into a second season.
This crime series has unfaltering popularity with Polish fans. For the internet community, Father Mateusz epitomises everything that is wrong with TV series but millions of viewers follow the exploits of the priest investigator every day.
The Polish version is a spin-off of the Italian Don Matteo played by Terence Hill. In Poland, the cheerful cycling priest with a black beret is young and good-looking (Artur Żmijewski). He lives in the small and picturesque Sandomierz and solves bloody murder cases. The city's inhabitants smile when the sun shines but their basements hide as many mysteries and dead bodies as the streets of Baltimore in The Wire.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translator: MJ 31/07/2014
New York Times, The Independent