Monday, February 12, 2018

Review of The End of the World in Breslau by Marek Krajewski (2003, Polish; 2010, Maclehose)

New York, 1960. Eberhard Mock is on his deathbed and wants to confess to his actions during his separation from his first wife in Breslau, 1927. At the time his marriage is imploding in domestic violence, rape and sexual promiscuity, Mock is trying to track down the ‘calender killer’, who is committing horrendous, brutal murders, leaving a page ripped from a diary with the victim. While Mock stews in alcohol and uses his officers to track his wife rather than the killer, his wife is taking revenge on his neglect by exploring her sexuality with her best friend and a baron. Despite his brutish flaws, Mock has a reputation for genius in investigating crimes and he’s soon approaching the murders from an unusual angle that points to mysterious sect.

The End of the World in Breslau is the second book in the Eberhard Mock series set in 1920s Breslau (present day Wroclaw). In this outing, Mock’s first marriage is ending at the same time as he’s trying to track down a serial killer obsessed with the past. At one level the tale is interesting enough as Mock tries to solve the crimes by focusing on the place it was committed rather than the crime or perpetrator. However, the story suffers from a couple of issues. The first is the thorough unpleasantness of Mock. Usually the bad cop is softened by a lighter side or the quest for redemption. Mock is embittered, vindictive and brutal: he beats and rapes his wife, he destroys careers, blackmails his boss, uses public resources as if his own, and tortures suspects. It may well be realistic, in the sense that some cops might be cut from that cloth, but it’s a brave move to have such a lead character as it’s difficult for the reader to find a point of connection. It’s not helped by every other main character in the book being almost as flawed or selfish, and every aspect of the storyline being rooted in immorality, violence and corruption. I appreciate that was probably the intention, but having no points of light in the darkness was wearing after a while. In addition, part of the problem of the storytelling is that is supposedly set out as a confession by Mock. Yet it’s told in the third person and has sections that relate specifically to his wife or colleagues that he could not know the intimate details of; he also claims to have no knowledge as to what happened to her after 1928, yet she became famous, making that unlikely. Moreover, the end became very messy and difficult to follow. All round, not a very satisfying read, though there was enough intrigue to keep my turning pages to find out the resolution of the murders.

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