–Post by Molly
Melville House has just published Marek Krajewski’s The Minotaur’s Head, his last in the Inspector Mock Investigation Quartet, excellently translated by Danusia Stok. Krajewski began the series in 1999 with Death in Breslau and now has four translated volumes available from Melville International Crime. Despite the fact that The Minotaur’s Head is the last in a series, I came to it as a stand-alone, casually picked up in my spare time. I read it through in a day and a half and now intend to read the whole series. Krajewski is committed to providing background for the characters. Despite not having read the previous novels in the series, I felt quite at home in the narrative.
The Minotaur’s Head is set partly in the Polish city of Lwów and partly in the Silesian city of Breslau. The story takes place in 1937, close to the start of World War II, and in a world already preparing for brutality but still immersed in a prewar miasma of small crimes. Krajewski begins the novel with the murder of a child and accusations of blood libel in 1939, and then moves backward in time to 1937, where several women have been found murdered, each violated and cannibalized by an elusive stranger defined only by his hideous face.
When a German citizen is murdered in Lwów, Inspector Mock, of the Silesian Police, is happy to leave behind Nazi-dominated Germany to go to comparatively free Poland in search of her killer. Detective Edward Popielski, his Polish partner on the case, is less than enthused about their high-profile task as he becomes more and more worried for his daughter’s safety. The detectives spend as much time being hungover and eating herring as they do searching for any criminals, and have petty personal vendettas of their own, but these qualities only enhance the jazzy rhythm and historical cadences of the narrative as it moves toward a shocking, modern crescendo.
Period detail seeps into every part of the narrative. The Minotaur’s Head not only fills the book with historical tidbits, but makes the book feel as if it was written during the time period it portrays. His characters are lively and rebellious against the strictures of their world, yet perfectly conform to the range of attitudes available at the time in both their liberalism and intolerance. Inspector Mock, in particular, evokes the hedonists of the 20s, in futile and subtle rebellion against his new Nazi masters. Marek Krajewski has done what many have tried to do – capture the multi-ethnic and culturally vibrant world of Poland before the destruction of WWII in a way that is simultaneously affectionate, terrifying, stylish and realistic.
The Minotaur’s Head is available on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com.