Saturday, 6 February 2016

Criminal Travels: Poland - Miloszewski & "A Grain Of Truth"

I am just back from immersing myself in the late arrival of spring to the picturesque town of Sandomierz, Poland - which I visited courtesy of "A Grain Of Truth" by Zygmunt Miloszewski, his second crime fiction novel featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki. [Bitter Lemon Press, 2012.]
I read the first "Szacki" book - "Entanglement"- late last year and posted my thoughts on that one here. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to read this second installment and I am glad I did....

"Like a china doll floating in the mist, thought Myszynski as he gazed at the dead body lying below the synagogue. It was unnaturally, unsettlingly white, shining with lack of colour."

April 2009: Nighttime, and from a high window in the Sandomierz State Archives, housed in a converted synagogue, a soon-to-be traumatised genealogist spots the pale, naked corpse of a woman lying below. The death summons Sandomierz's new State Prosecutor, Teodor Szacki, to the scene. But what is Warsaw-man Szacki doing here, living and working in provincial Sandomierz? Answer: mid-life crisis.
Visiting the area during an investigation of the murder of a prostitute in a Warsaw brothel, Szacki's solving of the case brought him fame in Sandomierz. The weather and surrounding countryside is beautiful. He thinks, why not start a new life here? Had they a post vacant? Well, in fact, yes. And so Teodor leaves his stranded marriage, his wife and child, his big-city ennui, for a fresh start and a new life in the bosom of a beautiful, historic town.
Except it hasn't turned out that way. Teodor finds himself to be, not the big, prosecutorial fish from Warsaw, central to the town and his own life, but an outsider in a provincial city, mistrusted, isolated and lonely. He misses night-life, good wine and the bouts of bracing sparring with his old police partner Oleg Kuzniecow.

The death of the woman in Sandomierz suggests ritual slaughter. Szacki soon suspects her husband, a respected Councillor, until he himself is found dead in an even more gruesome and bizarre ritualistic setting. Does the town harbour a serial killer whose pattern of murder has its roots in the town's difficult anti-Semitic past and myths? Jewish revenge or the misleading twists of an anti-Semitic nationalist? In order to find the killer before they kill again, Szacki must investigate both the past and the present of his country and community - a community whose inhabitants know their combined history like the backs of their hands.

Beautifully translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, "A Grain Of Truth" is a meticulously considered and well written book that builds a convincing portrait of Teodor Szacki. It also examines Polish history and Jewish relations from all angles whilst still managing to remain a gripping crime story which had me reading into the small hours, hanging onto its pages with clenched hands, despite my internal reader struggling with an imagined pronunciation of all those Polish names; that's a nothing... a small problem compared to the crime story told. I do hope there will be a third Teodor Szacki ... or rather a third Teodor Szacki translated into English. Miloszewski has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

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