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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Review: Death in Breslau, Marek Krajewski (Poland)

Title:                                Death in Breslau
Author:                             Marek Krajewski
Translator:                        Danusia Stok - from Polish
Date/Place of Publication: 2012: Brooklyn: Melville House
Original Publication:          1999: Poland, Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie Co. Ltd.
                                       (as “Śmierć w Breslau”)
ISBN #:                            978-1-61219-165-2
Number of Pages:             213
Read in E-book format
Also available in hard cover

This is the first of several books in the series about police investigator Eberhard Mock. More of an anti-hero than a role model, Mock is reminiscent of Captain Louis Renault, Claude Rains' character in the movie "Casablanca". Not entirely without scruples, he cooperates with the Nazis, partly out of necessity and partly for personal gain, even though he does not necessarily subscribe to their beliefs and he will do little things to annoy them...if he can do them without risk to himself.

This particular story opens in a Dresden psychiatric hospital in 1950, at that time part of East Germany. Stasi officer Major Mahmadov wants to question patient Herbert Anwaldt. He has asked to do this before and when the previous hospital director refused, it appears he was replaced. The new director reluctantly agrees and at midnight, the officer returns for the interview. A short while later, hospital employees hear screaming from Anwaldt's room but shrug it off as typical behaviour. In fact, Anwaldt is screaming in terror at the four desert scorpions on the floor.

The action now shifts back in time to pre-war Breslau. In 1933, Breslau (the German name for the Polish city Wroclaw) was part of Prussia and it eventually became one of the strongest bases of support for the Nazis. Mock, Deputy Head of the Criminal Department, has been called out to investigate the brutal murders of three people, a train conductor and two women. Mock recognizes the youngest victim, 17 year old Marietta, daughter of Baron von der Malten, an acquaintance of Mock. She and her governess, Françoise Debroux, were also viciously raped and desert scorpions were found on all three bodies.

From here, the story takes many twists and turns, right to the very end. The historical backdrop is a critical part of the narrative. Beginning in pre-war Prussia just as Hitler has been appointed German Chancellor, you can sense the steady insidious rise of the Nazi Party and its effects on how criminal investigations were undertaken and the rule of law applied. The police force in question were not previously comprised of angels though; they were already using violence, blackmail and secret files as key investigative tools.

This is certainly a journey through the seedier side of life in the 1930's and at times, the brutality is difficult to read. However, it is an intriguing and challenging book.

The author's background is quite interesting as well. With a Masters in classical philology and a doctorate in humanities/linguistics, Krajewski has worked as a librarian, jewelry salesman and security guard, senior university lecturer and now professional writer.

Link to Author's Website:


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