Phantoms of Breslau
This is the third of Krajewski’s Eberhard Mock crime novels to be translated into English by Danusia Stok. It is September 1919, and the hideously mutilated bodies of four sailors are discovered on an island in the River Oder. Criminal Assistant Mock of the Breslau Police begins an investigation which will lead him not only into the dark heart of the city, but also back into his own wartime trauma.
This is a wonderful work of gothic crime fiction, so drenched in the fatalism and debauchery of the inter-war years, so stuffed with unforgettably grotesque characters, that the plot almost doesn’t matter. It is also beautifully packaged by MacLehose, a thing of beauty concealing ghastlinesses to relish. Krajewski’s writing is erudite yet mordantly hilarious. He can describe a hangover in a way which could put the faint-hearted off drinking for life. The plot is a clever one, full of the twists and turns and red herrings one would expect of good crime fiction, yet a step up from that because the real mystery lies not so much in solving the murders but in revealing Mock’s personal connection with them. If I have any criticism, it is that this finale feels somewhat rushed, but maybe that’s just because I didn’t want the book to end.
A small caveat. The writing style is quite complex and convoluted, and takes a little getting used to. At one or two points I felt the translator had been too literal and that the text might have flowed more smoothly if she had used an English idiom instead. That said, I am not myself a Polish speaker and Ms. Stok is a very eminent translator, so I would urge readers to judge for themselves.