18 August 2013

Library Limelights 35

Zygmunt Miloszewski. Entanglement. London, UK: Bitter Lemon Press, 2010 (published in Poland in 2007).
At the point of reading this book, I'd just travelled across Poland to reach another destination. Coming and going entailed spending two semi-interesting nights at a motel on the outskirts of Warsaw. That small window, along with highway service station pit stops, was a prelude for Miloszewski's descriptions of daily life in Warsaw. Or perhaps I should say the main character's observations of life as a perennially-challenged civil servant. Those of us who enjoy arm-chair travel in our mystery reading can here expand our knowledge of not only post-Soviet Warsaw but also of regions where the prosecutor takes a lead role in criminal investigation. Teodor Szacki of the Warsaw Public Prosecution Service is a different kind of detective.

And Entanglement presents a somewhat different kind of murder scene, encircled by a psychodrama called constellation therapy (based on treatment of family relationships developed by psychologist Bert Hellinger). The drama adds another dimension and complication for Szacki who must discover the killer of an unhappy patient. Surprises and threats increase as the prosecutor digs into the past, even while he questions his own mid-life crisis and thoughts of dalliance with that cute young reporter. I especially loved the sardonic "news reports" introducing each chapter and new day. It's a procedural-type approach, not a thriller, but if you like international, go look for it. The next book in the series, A Grain of Truth, has been translated and a third is expected in Poland this year.

Regular meeting with the boss:
Chorko took off her glasses, which she only used for writing on the computer, and tidied her fringe. Her curls looked as if they'd been transplanted from a poodle. 
"Prosecutor Szacki," she said. "I am equally aware of what you are saying and of the fact that the prosecution system has a hierarchical structure. That means the higher up the hierarchy, the closer to our boss, who is usually ..." She pointed at Szacki, wanting him to finish the sentence. 
"A halfwit with a political title, sent here to gain points for his pals in the poll." 
"Exactly. But please don't say that to the press, unless you want to spend the rest of your days in the General Correspondence Department. And that's why our officious colleagues from Krakowskie Przednieście ..." She pointed at Szacki again. 
"Are already gearing up for a change of guard, and just in case we are trying to be more radical, more uncompromising and tougher than the single egg the Kaczyński brothers emerged from." The twin politicians were famous for their rigid attitudes.
(112-113)

Szacki agonizes:
Teodor Szacki suddenly felt the phone receiver get very heavy. Why? Why was this happening to him right now? Why could there not be one single ordinary element in this inquiry? A decent corpse, suspects from the underworld, normal witnesses who come to be interviewed by the prosecutor with fear in their hearts. Why this zoo? Why was each successive witness more eccentric than the one before? He had thought after the feline Dr. Jeremiasz Wróbel nothing could surprise him, but here if you please: first a crazy denouncer of collaborators and now a nutcase seized with persecution mania. (262)

Michael Gilbert. Death Has Deep Roots. London, UK: Hamlyn Paperback/Arrow Books Limited, 1951.
A find that looked like a "throwaway," a time-killer between library orders, turned out to be a perfect little Brit courtroom classic. What a treat to savour the Queen's most excellent English: every word precisely chosen; every sentiment appropriately expressed; all in the sparest but most effective prose. My prior ignorance of the author was enlightened somewhat by his obituary in The Guardian (2006) that refers to his "pawky humour." Whatever pawky means sounds just about right; you and I would probably say British humour to the core. This particular book was written early in Gilbert's prolific writing career; over fifty years old and still a gem.

A young French woman is accused of murder, leading her defence legal team to her Second World War past. The pressure is on, as lawyers Macrea and Rumbold struggle to unravel British connections in France and vice versa, before their case to the jury runs out of time. Their unique investigator, Major McCann, adds his own style of hunting down witnesses. Tightly written and deeply satisfying.

Barroom brawl coming up:
"Half pint of bitter," said McCann. "Quiet tonight.""We're always quiet in here," said the landlord."It's nice to be quiet," said McCann."That's what I always say," said the landlord.As he said this, he smiled. It wasn't a particularly nice smile.
McCann had picked up his glass when he realized that two men had come in without making any noise. One of them, a tall thin man with a bent nose was standing just beside him. The other was at the door. "Were you asking after Mrs. Roper?" said the thin man softly.Quite suddenly McCann realised he had been every sort of fool.
He realised he had been led by the nose to the place where things happened. He knew this from the way the two women had already disappeared, and from the way the landlord kept his eye on the doorway through which he was preparing to disappear (and from a telephone behind which he would, no doubt, in due time, and when it was too late, summon the police). He knew it from the painstaking way in which the card players went on with their game without lifting their eyes.
Meanwhile there was a question to be answered."No," he said, "It wasn't me. Perhaps you were thinking of someone else."Considering that this was a flat lie, he managed to work a good deal of conviction into it. (48)

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