Monday, February 9, 2009

"Death in Breslau" by Marek Krajewski

Not long ago, my in-laws, who live in Wroclaw, Poland, sent my husband a care package that included a series of crime novels. These novels are apparently all the rage in Poland, and in particular, Wroclaw, because the stories take place there. (Before 1945, Wroclaw was actually part of Germany and was called Breslau). My husband is not a big reader, but dove into one of the five books, and raved about it. Well, my fellow bibliophiles, as you can imagine, this was all I could take! It was like dangling a string in front of a cat, or dangling a picture of Viggo in front of any red-blooded woman. I NEEDED to read these books. Unfortunately, only one has been translated to English...Death in Breslau. My library was able to track it down in a library in Washington state, and get it for me on loan.

The series focuses on an investigator named Eberhard Mock. Mock is an enigma - he is very hard to characterize. He's not always likeable. He's a middle-aged man with a big gut who struggles with his mortality, desperately wants offspring but has yet to accomplish this task with his past two wives. He drinks, he cheats, he has a temper. He has allowed the imprisonment of an innocent man to further his career. A real ass, right? But he is also very smart. He has a list of "vices" on every significant personality in town, he has serial sadists in his debt, and has a keen knack for survival during a time when survival ain't easy. He gets the job done, using every tool and method possible...some legal and some very much heinous. He craftily maneuvers through the myriad of political landmines one would find in Germany in 1933.

In Death in Breslau, the crime in question is the murder of a 15-year-old daughter of a baron, who was found disemboweled with scorpions crawling around in the remains. A gentlemen by the name of Herbert Anwaldt, an investigator from Berlin, is temporarily assigned to help Mock expeditiously solve this crime. Anwaldt is a damaged man, an alcoholic with deep emotional scars from his childhood. These two are quite the pair. They pursue leads that soon reveal the story of an ancient and secret sect of devil-worshipers from the twelfth century, and a legacy of revenge. Simultaneously, the two investigators unearth secrets about themselves that are just as dangerous.

I have read literally thousands of crime novels. This particular one stood out from the crowd on many counts. Yes, I was initially intrigued to read a piece of fiction that takes place in my husband's home town, of which I am familiar. Beyond that, Krajewski has managed, in a book of about 250 pages, to peel away layers of two very troubled men, exposing both tenderness and ugliness. From his edgy, gritty prose, he has created the essence of Germany in the 1930's - bleak, paranoid and taut. There are torture scenes that made my hardened, cynical stomach turn (ones that involve honey and hornets, and ones that involve a dentist's chair...). The translation was a tiny bit awkward, but did not overshadow the intent of the author, which I believe was to rip you out of your comfort zone for awhile. Please, publishers, please translate the rest of the series!

A note about the book cover: I can't leave without mentioning this unique work by graphic artist Andrzej Klimowski (see his website here), who is internationally known for his posters and book covers. To me, they are very reminiscent of the surreal European art of the 1970's, and are mesmerizing to behold.


Beth F said...

Fascinating! Thanks so much for posting about this and thanks to your in-laws.

The torture scenes sound horrible!

The Bumbles said...

That cover image is pretty trippy. And after this book yes, I agree, you need some light reading. Since you mentioned in your comment on our post about Dewey that you used to live on a farm I think you would relate even more to Dewey. I think the writing style left a lot to be desired but it was pretty interesting - and the kitty pictures are "awwww"some.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - the torture scenes made me squirm. I kept exclaiming out loud, which was making my husband crazy.

Bumbles - the art IS should take a look at the guy's website for his other work. Yes, I need some kitten literature, after I finish my current read, which is about the Holocaust!

Michele said...

Wow, this just sounds fantastic! How did you get so lucky in the in-law department????

Sandy Nawrot said...

Michele - I got very lucky with my in-laws for many reasons. They are the most loving, accepting people I know (except for my parents!). Unfortunately we don't see them but once every other year. It is a loooooong trip, especially for two little kids!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I've been to Wroclaw/Breslau so I think this is ultra cool. We actually bought a book on Polish graphic artists when we were there and it includes the cover artist. He is awesome.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Lenore - it IS a cool town. Just within the last year or two the WSJ did a feature on it as one of the little hidden gems in Europe. We go every other summer to see family, and I always look forward to it. The art is something that catches your eye, for sure. My husband has a big cyndrical container of these types of posters up in the attic. I keep thinking I need to sell them and make big bucks!

Anna said...

Eberhard sounds like an interesting character. Not sure about the torture scenes you mention (my stomach grows weaker with age) but it sounds like an interesting book.

Diary of an Eccentric