Wednesday, July 08, 2009

THE END OF THE WORLD IN BRESLAU



New York 1960: Eberhard Mock is dying from lung cancer but before receiving the last rites and the sacrament of confession he wishes to speak with his old colleague Herbert Anwaldt.

As Mock tells his story the reader is taken back to Breslau in November 1927 at probably the apogee of the Weimar Republic.
Counsellor Eberhard Mock's life is full of problems.
His nephew Erwin wishes to become a poet and his father Franz, a railway engineer, comments "Poets are all queers, or dirty Jews."
Eberhard Mock fails to support Erwin in the family argument and is criticised by his wife Sophie, "when we're here you put a railwayman above a poet?"
Eberhard takes on some of the family responsibility and designates an unfavoured subordinate to watch over his nephew.

Mock's strained relationship with his beautiful young wife Sophie has become increasingly brutal and she has entered into a curious association with her friend Elisabeth Pfugler and the very rich Baron von Hagenstahl. Another of Mock's subordinates is assigned to watch Sophie.

On top of these personal problems he has a mystery to solve and an investigation to conduct; two men have been sadistically murdered, one sealed up behind a wall and one butchered into quarters, each with next to them a calendar page with the date of their death.
Meanwhile in Breslau with the high society decadence of the wealthy few contrasting starkly with the abject poverty of the many, a strange cult preaches the apocalypse and the imminent end of the world.
Mock must deal with his own depression, the demands of his scheming superior Criminal Director Heinrich Muhlhaus, his own violent nature, and track down through the bars, brothels, casinos, and dark recesses of the city, the perpetrator of the calendar killings.

Marek Krajewski was until recently a lecturer in Classical Studies in the University of Wroclau. The Eberhard Mock novels of which there are now five have enjoyed great success in Poland and Germany and are being translated into many other languages. The English version is translated by Danusia Stok, a distinguished translator of modern Polish literature.

Marek Krajewski's style takes a little bit getting used to but it is worth the effort, and although he does scatter a very few Latin quotations around they add to the noirish atmosphere of a story set in an ancient university city that was German Breslau for 700 years, before becoming Polish Wroclau after the Second World War.

"True to the maxim primum edere deinde philosophari, [eat first then philosophize] he thought neither of Sophie nor of the investigation, and got to work on the dumplings drenched in sauce and the thick slices of roast meat."

Marek Krajewski's plotting is complex as we follow the various strands which diverge off in different directions and then eventually come together at the end.
But as with many of the best crime fiction novels even this very good plot is secondary and only a method of introducing the wonderfully bizarre characters.
The seedy atmosphere of Breslau in the 1920s superbly portrayed, but the deeply flawed character of the anti-hero Eberhard Mock is by far the best thing about this series.
He is indeed the perfect fit of investigator for a decadent violent society that was about to destroy itself in the next few years.

This is one of the best books I have read this year, another fine example of the growing sub genre of Weimar Noir; it is surely a contender for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.
I am really looking forward to reading more and more about this new and very different detective.

You can read my interview with Marek Krajewski here and here, and my review of the first book in the series Death in Breslau here.

Read another review of The End of The World in Breslau here.

"Ebi, the attendant has made a mistake. He's given you somebody else's fur. I didn't have a stole."
"It is your fur", Mock said with the expression of a schoolboy who has just tipped drawing-pins onto the chair of a teacher he dislikes."And your stole."
"Thank you, my love." Sophie held out her hand to be kissed.

2 Comments:

Blogger Maxine said...

Great review, Norman. Your trip away has reinvigorated you, if that is possible. I have two volumes from this author, and your review (plus intriguing quote) makes me want to push them up the priority list...such hard decisions! (What to read next, that is.) I have so many really tempting ones waiting. Maybe I should do one of those posts where I ask readers to advise (but I think I might find it hard to take any notice of the answers!) Welcome back from your break.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much Maxine. I don't feel invigorated just exhausted after driving over 500 miles on our crowded roads.
Krajewski's books are very individualistic and Eberhard Mock is a brilliantly unique creation. Not a nice man but amusing to read about, you would not want to meet him in real life.
End of the World in Breslau is better than the first book Death in Breslau in my opinion but they are both very good.

2:36 PM  

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