Krajewski, Marek - 'Death in Breslau' (translated by Danusia Stok)
Dresden 1950: Herbert Anwaldt is locked away in a psychiatric institution, afraid of insects, cockroaches and especially scorpions. Why?
Breslau 1933, a city near the Polish border shortly after the Nazi seizure of power, and seventeen year old Marietta von der Malten is found in a railway carriage murdered with her intestines sliced open and a live scorpion inserted into the abdominal cavity. Her governess Mlle Francoise Debroux is also found dead strangled with a curtain cord, while a railway worker has been stung to death by three scorpions, and on the wall of the carriage is strange oriental writing.
Kriminaldirektor Eberhard Mock is interrupted in his weekly chess assignation with two ladies of the night and goes to investigate. Mock's assistant Max Forstner is a protege of the fanatical Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer SA Edmund Heines and therefore Mock has to tread very carefully. Mock and the victim's father Baron von der Malten are Freemasons, and because of this vulnerability he seals a bargain with Walter Piontek of the Gestapo to blame the murders on a crazy old Jew, Isidor Friedlander who sells scorpions.
The following year, after the purge of the SA, Baron von der Malten receives evidence that Friedlander was not guilty and demands that Mock, now promoted, assists the recovering young alcoholic Berlin policeman Herbert Anwaldt who has been sent to uncover the real murderer. Breslau is a beautiful corrupt city sweltering in the summer heat and Anwaldt, with the Gestapo watching his every move and Mock off on a holiday, gets himself into very deep trouble while investigating the decadent Baron Wilhelm von Kopperlingk and the perverted Doctor George Maass.
Mock returns just in time and he and Anwaldt discover that the solution to the crimes may be in the distant past and deciphering the ancient oriental text leads them to a surprising conclusion.
The German city of Breslau has now become the Polish city of Wroclaw where author Marek Krajewski is a lecturer in Classical Studies at the university. His translator is Danusia Stok who lived in Poland for several years before returning to London. They both have done a very fine job in bringing Eberhard Mock to an English readership. This novel is a brilliant inventive introduction to Polish crime fiction and Krajewski's flawed detective Eberhard Mock, a man well fitted for his time and place. Erasmus said that "in the country of the blind the one eyed man is king", and in the totally perverted world of the Nazi takeover from the decadent Weimar Republic with corrupt elderly aristocrats slobbering over "schoolgirl" prostitutes, and Gestapo torturers having free rein, even Eberhard Mock, a master of blackmail and threats, seems almost modest in his desires and gentle in his methods.
Marek Krajewski is definitely a master at recreating an atmosphere of fear, darkness, creepiness and foreboding. You almost seem to be in the Adler with Mock driving through the beautiful menacing streets of Breslau, or with the torturers in the dank dark cells. That atmosphere combined with strong characterisation and a complicated plot involving a strange medieval sect makes this a very good start to what promises to be an interesting series.
The pre-war world of suspicion and fear has proved to be a fertile ground for crime fiction thriller writers such as Philip Kerr and Alan Furst, now Marek Krajewski has entered that exalted company and I shall certainly be looking forward to his next book.
Read another review of DEATH IN BRESLAU.
Norman Price, England