Phantoms of Breslau-Marek Krajewski
Novel in translation (Eberhard Mock series)
It is 1919 in Breslau. The hideously battered bodies of four young sailors are discovered on an island in the River Oder. When Criminal Assistant Mock arrives at the scene to investigate, he discovers a note addressed to him, asking him to confess his sins and to become a believer. As he endeavours to piece together the elements of this brutal crime, Mock combs the brothels and drinking dens of Breslau and is drawn into an insidious game: it seems that anyone he questions during the course of the investigation is destined to become the murderer's next victim
At times this Baroque novel is a discomforting read since all the women are prostitutes and called by every name. In fact the entire profession is constantly referred to in the most derogatory terms possible. This contempt mainly flows from Mock but is strangely overlaid with regret and empathy. But that faded into the background mainly because of the fascinating Mock, the detective, and because it adds to the atmosphere of war haunted (corrupt) and newly minted (decadent) Poland. This gritty background marks this hard boiled detective novel as fairly unusual. I was reminded at times of the vivid atmosphere of Red April though of course the novels are set in very different places/times/situations-they are similar in that despite the grislyness of everything you still read avidly. (Also, both share disturbing cover art.)
Mock, himself, is just fascinating. He is haunted by numerous personal demons in the form of nightmares-which cause him to drink constantly. He was active during the war and from that has a bitter and cynical view of humankind and a special disdain towards any former informers. The narrative is as jaded and twisted as Mock's thinking and the two play off each other that makes for a compelling read as Mock violently alternates between worry, love, and his demons as he encounters corruption and decadence. In fact, the narrative is so vivid, it's almost decadent in its own right.
Mock's narrative is interspersed with the rantings of the murderer. As the book goes on these rantings are increasingly insane, disjointed, and difficult to understand. This is the occult part of the novel and it remains unknowable. Remarkably, you literally have no idea who the murderer himself is until the very last chapter which makes this truly a detective novel.
I seek to read more Eberhard Mock novels especially since this leaves you with a cliffhanger of an ending, not of the plot itself-that is solved- but of Mock's character.