Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Grey Doll's Criminal Reading Takes Her To Miloszewski's Warsaw

I won three crime novels a while back .... and the first one I chose to read was "Entanglement" by Polish writer Zygmunt Miloszewski. [Bitter Lemon Press, 2010]. Nice timing for me because, according to Bitter Lemon Press, BBC Radio Four is broadcasting a two-part dramatisation of the book - at 3pm on Sundays October 11 and 18th - as part of its "Reading Europe" season. There should also be a BBC Radio 4's "Front Row" interview with its author, former journalist and editor Miloszewski, at 7.15pm on October 9th.

"Entanglement" is Miloszewski's first crime novel featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki and is set in Warsaw in 2005, during the political reign of the Kaczyński twins. It opens with the discovery of a body (naturally). The body is that of printing-business manager Henryk Telak, a participant in a tough, weekend-long, role-playing, psychotherapy workshop taking place in the rented rooms of a Warsaw monastery. The dead Henryk is found on the floor of one of these rooms with a skewer in his eye ... and the case lands on the desk of be-suited, prematurely white-haired, Prosecutor Szacki who, roused from his Sunday-morning bed by his seven-year old daughter, gives a bleary-eyed wave to his equally bleary-eyed wife in her faded "Disco Fun" t-shirt and makes his way to the crime scene. Szacki wonders how to play the interviews with the workshop participants. The Lieutenant Columbo method, let them stew? But he tells Police Inspector Oleg Kuzniecow to interview them now – as witnesses – careful questions, take good notes, soften them up for Szacki to get back to them a few times. Kuzniecow  bristles at the precise instructions but agrees to meet for coffee next morning to summarise progress and to work out a strategy. You're buying, says Kuzniecow. Can't afford to, replies Szacki....

The book that follows is in some ways a conventional police procedural in which Szacki is partnered by the ironically (we hope) savage police detective Oleg Kuzniecow as they interview workshop-participants, therapist, witnesses and other interested parties. But alongside this structured plot Miloszewski gives us subtle reminders of the changes undergone by Polish society during the late twentieth century and paints a detailed evocation of Warsaw's streets and buildings(Us non-Polish readers must chose whether to master a mental pronunciation act or blast through the names and places with reckless speed in this smooth and convincing translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.) The plot deepens as clues lead back to another murder whilst Szacki's frustrations at marking time in his career and marriage push him towards the distractions of a young, attractive journalist.
Miloszewski creates his characters with an objective yet empathic eye and I love his dialogue. With psychotherapy, suspense, wit and the tensions of Poland's political history...  this is a book I greatly enjoyed.

I shall definitely be putting the second in the Prosecutor Szacki series - "A Grain of Truth" - on my Christmas List ... ready for The Old Man's wallet.

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