Friday, July 29, 2011

End of the World in Breslau - Marek Krajewski

A couple of years ago, my husband turned me on to a crime series, written by a Polish author, that takes place before and during WWII in his hometown of Breslau (Wroclaw after German occupation).  I got my hands on the one and only installment translated to English called "Death in Breslau" via library loan. It was a very dark little gem featuring a tormented protagonist (the best kind).  I became frustrated at the fact that the series was not being translated in order (Jo Nesbo-style) and that they were taking their sweet old time translating as well. 

While I was visiting Poland this summer, I found a large Borders-type book store called "Empik" in the city square and found that they had two more Krajewski titles in English...and they were 20% off!  My mother-in-law bought them for me for my birthday, and I could not have been happier.  I read this one on the way back home.  My kids were HORRIFIED that there was a naked woman on the cover and demanded I cover it up.  (Note:  These books are available on Amazon.  I was just happy to save on shipping.)

Synopsis:  On his deathbed, protagonist and tortured soul Eberhard Mock asks for an old friend to visit him, so that he may confess his burdens and die in peace.  A recounting of his sins takes us on a trip back through time to when Mock was a young but already accomplished detective in 1927 Breslau.  "I told you about my first wife, Sophie, remember?  This is going to be about her..."

Mock has been assigned a particularly set of grisly murders, all replicating specific crimes that occurred hundreds of years ago...one sealed alive behind a brick wall, another quartered, another hung upside-down and stabbed.  All clues seem to point to a sect predicting the end of the world.  But this is only the backdrop for Mock's more insidious troubles...his wife and his marriage.  Troubles that lead him into an underworld of perversion and vices that very well may be his undoing. 

My thoughts:  Eberhard Mock is one messed up anti-hero.  I can't even decide if I like him or not.  He has a temper, he is abusive, he is an alcoholic, he is suicidal, he has no morals.  But he is clever and is driven to solve his cases.  It is no surprise that he can't stay married and am glad he has not been able to have a child, despite the fact that he wants offspring in the worst way.  He is one big living, breathing raw wound that is painful to be near, even on the written page.  I shake my head in amazement at Krajewski...he is pushing his readers to the very edge of tolerance, but gives them just enough to keep coming back. Gutsy. 

The pacing is tight and packaged in a little bundle of less than 300 pages.  There were a number of times when I had no earthly clue what was going on - the storyline was complicated and sometimes confusing.  I don't know if that was attributable to the translation or the plot itself.  But I kept forging ahead and it worked itself out eventually.

I can't conclude this review without mentioning the very glaringly bizarre book cover.  The Polish version of these books are muted black and white photos of historical Breslau.  But the English covers are these surreal illustrations by artist Andrzej Klimowski (see his website here), who is internationally recognized for designing not only book covers but film posters and original works of art.

4 out of 5 stars           

11 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

That's so funny about saving on shipping (yes! pay $5000 to go overseas and save $6! (or whatever) - certainly my argument for picking up Nesbo's in Spain! And we got Jim some new U. of C. t-shirts in Chicago this past week "to save on shipping" - Economists are so wedded to theories of rational decision-making in spending but clearly they haven't met the likes of us!

C.B. James said...

Why have you been hiding this author from me? Hard-boiled detective in occupied Poland! I've GOTTA read this! ;=)

reviewsbylola said...

That cover certainly caught my attention!

Anna said...

My daughter would have freaked out about the cover, too. In fact, on the cover of Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, a nipple is barely visible on the bottom, and she was like "Ew, ew, ew!" when she noticed it. LOL

Zibilee said...

I have to admit that seeing that cover was a little startling, but it sounds as if this is a great series. The protagonist (I hesitate to call him a "hero") does sound very, very messed up, which could do some interesting things to a readers loyalties while reading this book. I might have to see if I can get ahold of a copy of this one at some point. It sounds like a fascinating book!

Julie P. said...

Your kids crack me up! That cover is something! I'm glad the mystery worked itself out for you despite some confusion.

caite said...

Well, on the Death in Breslau, she is a bit more covered..lol
There are only 4 reviews on Amazon, but they may be the longest I have ever seen there...I have to recharge my phone to read them!

Alyce said...

Yeah, that cover is weird. I really wish that publishers would not put images on covers that I can't show my kids. I guess that's what e-books are good for! :)

Kathleen said...

This sounds like a really interesting book. I do love a good crime novel but have never gone outside my comfort zone to read a series by an author outside the U.S.

farmlanebooks said...

I remember being interested in these when you read the first one a few years ago. Unsurprisingly I haven't stumbled a copy of his books here, but my husband goes to Poland on business occasionally so I'll try to remember to ask him to get me a copy next time he goes.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Did you point out to your kids that the naked woman is *natural* while her position on the craps table is a bit odd ...

The artist's rendering reminds me a bit of Marjane Satrapi's drawings.