Category Archives: Anya Lipska

Watcha Gonna Do When They Come For You*

PoliceProceduralsFor many people, there’s something fascinating about what police do, and how they go about their jobs. Perhaps it’s the huge number of cop shows on TV, or perhaps it’s the image of the cop making things safe and putting the ‘bad guys’ away, so to speak. Or it could be the chance to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ of a unique setting. Perhaps it’s something else. Whatever it is, police procedurals have become a popular staple in crime fiction.

Interestingly enough, the police procedural as we think about it now is newer than some of the other sub-genres in crime fiction. For example, the private detective novel has been around since the days of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But that makes sense. Modern police forces weren’t really put together until the 19th Century and it took even longer for them to become the kinds of police forces we think of today. If you want to know more about 19th Century police forces, check out K.B. Owen’s terrific blog/website. She’s an expert on the era.

Certainly there’ve been police officers mentioned in many classic/Golden Age novels. There Agatha Christie’s Chief Inspector Japp, there’s Stuart Palmer’s Oscar Piper and there’s Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, to name just three. There’s also of course Ellery Queen’s Inspector Richard Queen, and Rex Stout’s Inspector Cramer. But the police procedural novel as we think of it now really started a bit later.

There isn’t universal agreement about which book counts as the first police procedural, but Lawrence Treat’s 1945 novel V as in Victim is often brought up. This is just my opinion, so feel free to differ if you do, but for my money, the series that that really established the police procedural as a sub-genre was Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Beginning with 1956’s Cop Hater, the series went on for decades, almost until Hunter’s death. In that series, we see quite a lot more of life at a police station/precinct than we’d seen in previous kinds of crime novels. What’s more, this series doesn’t just follow one cop going after one criminal or criminal gang. There’s an ensemble cast in this series, and we follow not just the individual cases they investigate, but also their personal lives. The 87th Precinct series has had a profound influence on the genre in general and of course on the police procedural.

Another set of groundbreaking police procedurals is Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series. Those novels follow Stockholm-based Martin Beck and his police colleagues as they investigate murders, robberies, and more. They also highlight a variety of social issues such as unequal distribution of wealth, corruption and other issues. Like the 87th Precinct series, this one also addresses the personal lives of the characters. For many people, the Martin Beck series is the quintessential police procedural series.

In the last few decades, the police procedural as a sub-genre has gotten very diverse as it’s been taken in new directions. For instance, some police procedurals still feature an ensemble cast of characters. Fans of Fred Vargas’ Inspector Adamsberg series and Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur series, for instance, will know that those novels follow the lives of several of the characters, both in and outside working hours. So does Frédérique Molay’s Nico Sirksy series (I hope more of them will be translated into English soon).

Other series focus more on one or a few cops. For instance, in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, the spotlight is mostly on Bosch. We certainly learn about other characters, and there are several story arcs involving them. But the primary emphasis is on Bosch. You could say the same thing about Karin Fossum’s Konrad Sejer series. We do learn about other characters, but the focus in that series is on Sejer’s professional and personal life. Another example of this is Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. While there are story arcs and scenes involving other characters, it’s Rebus who’s the ‘star of the show.’

One major development in the police procedural series is that it’s gone worldwide. And that means that the different series have taken on the distinctive atmosphere of their settings. I’m thinking for instance of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip’s David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, which takes place in Botswana and which they write as Michael Stanley. There’s also Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Cao series, and Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. And that’s just to name three of the many police procedural series that are seasoned by their cultures.

Another development is the diversity in the kinds of people who feature in police procedural series. Women, for instance, are quite frequently police protagonists now. That’s what we see in Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series, Martin Edwards’ Lake District series and Anya Lipska’s Natalie Kershaw/Janusz Kiszka series. Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series is another example. That increasing diversity shows up in other ways too. There are gay cops, disabled cops and cops with all sorts of eccentricities.

Despite all of this variety, though, you could argue that there are still some basic things that define a police procedural series. One is that it focuses on police stations, bases or precincts and the people who work there. There are often sub-plots and story arcs that show us the cop’s off-duty life, but there is an emphasis on the investigation and on life as a police officer. Another, at least to me, is that the police procedural features a certain kind of investigation style that involves interpreting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects and so on. In that sense it’s quite different to the amateur sleuth, who doesn’t have the power of the law, or the PI sleuth, who goes about investigations in yet another way. Police culture, policies and the like have a strong impact on the way cops go about their jobs, and that makes their investigations distinctive.

What do you think? If you read police procedurals, what is their appeal to you? Which ones do you like the best (I know I’ve only mentioned a few of them) What, to you, makes a police procedural series a good one? If they put you off, why? If you write police procedurals, what made you choose that sub-genre?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Inner Circle’s Bad Boys.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Edgar Allan Poe, Ellery Queen, Evan Hunter, Frédérique Molay, Fred Vargas, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Josephine Tey, K.B. Owen, Karin Fossum, Katherine Howell, Lawrence Treat, Louise Penny, Maj Sjöwall, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Per Wahlöö, Qiu Xiaolong, Stanley Trollip, Stuart Palmer

This is My Generation, Baby*

GenerationsEach generation sees the world in a slightly different way. That’s in part because each generation grows up in a different time, with different kinds of advantages and pressures. Sometimes it seems as though the younger (or older) generation inhabits a different planet. And in a lot ways that’s not far from reality. If you think about your own family, you probably could give lots of examples of times where it seems you don’t even speak the same language, let alone have the same outlook on life. We certainly see a lot of that in crime fiction too. I’ll just give a few examples; I’ll bet you’ll be able to share lots more than I could think of anyway.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory DIckory Death), Hercule Poirot investigates some odd thefts and other occurrences at a student hostel. When one of the residents Celia Austin confesses that she’s responsible for some of the thefts, it seems the matter is over. Two nights later, though, Celia suddenly dies in what seems like a case of suicide. Once that death is proven to be a murder, Poirot and Inspector Sharpe know that this is much more than a few petty thefts. As Poirot looks into the case, he learns that Celia had an unusual reason for taking the things that she took. It’s a modern approach to meeting a very old challenge, if I may put it that way. And it serves to highlight the different ways that different generations look at the world. Christie takes on that difference in outlook in several other stories too (e.g. After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) and Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts)).

There’s a very distinct (and very sad) generation gap that’s referred to in Tony Hillerman’s stories featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Older generations of Native Americans (Leaphorn is a member of the Navajo Nation) were well-versed in the ways of their people. They kept the traditional ways and maintained their culture. But for younger generations it’s been much more difficult. For a long time, young Native American children were (sometimes forcibly) sent to mission schools and other boarding schools, where the emphasis was on assimilation. Children were required to wear Western clothes and hair styles, speak only English and follow Christianity. Those schools have closed, but Leaphorn was affected by that emphasis on Western ways. He attended,

 

‘A Bureau of Indian Affairs high school that had a sign in the hall. It said, ‘Tradition is the Enemy of Progress.’ The word was, give up the old ways or die.’

 

The pressure of dominant-culture media, economic forces and global communication has meant that in many ways the younger generations have lost touch with their people’s way of life, although in some areas that’s been changing. Hillerman addresses that issue in several of his novels.

There are distinct generation gaps in Qui Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine. Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police takes charge of the investigation of the murder of national model worker Guan Hongying. The case is delicate because the victim is a celebrity of sorts, and had several highly-placed friends in the Party. As the story evolves, there’s an interesting sub-text of the gap in world view and values among the generations. There’s the older generation, who have traditional values, beliefs and world views. There’s the Maoist generation, who have been profoundly impacted by Maoist theory and politics, and who experienced the Cultural Revolution. And there’s the younger generation, who are impacted by the growing capitalism in China and by global media. Each generation sees the world, and China, differently.

In Roger Smith’s Dust Devils, we meet Cape Town journalist Robert Dell. He, his wife Rosie and their two children are taking a drive when they are ambushed and the car goes over an embankment. Rosie and the children are killed, but Dell survives. The next thing he knows, though, he is being accused of murdering his family. Soon, he’s charged and jailed, and it looks as though whatever trial there may be has a predetermined outcome. Dell is rescued, though, by his father Bobby Goodbread, from whom he’s been estranged. The reason for the estrangement shows the difference in thinking between two generations. Goodbread is of the ‘Old Guard.’ He was pro-Apartheid and a supporter of ‘the way things have always been.’ To him, the new society is far too chaotic and dangerous. Dell on the other hand repudiates his father’s positions. He sees Aparheid as a moral wrong that has left deep scars, and he sees the changes in South Africa as necessary. His wife was non-white and their children were multiracial. But despite their differences, Goodbread and Dell have one goal in common: they want to travel to Zululand to find Inja Mazibuko, the man who murdered Dell’s family. Mazibuko is about to get married, and his intended bride Sonto, who is usually called Sunday, also reflects a generation gap. She works at an ‘authentic Zulu village’ – a tourist attraction mostly visited by Whites. Sunday wears traditional dress at work, but secretly listens to an MP3 player. She has her own personal reasons for not wanting to marry Mazibuko, one of which is that this marriage was arranged. One thing that guides her thinking is the modern belief that people should decide for themselves whom they’ll marry.

Anya Lipska’s Death Can’t Take a Joke highlights another interesting generational difference in thinking. Janusz Kiszka is a Polish immigrant to London. He’s got a reputation as a ‘fixer,’ as someone who can find things, solve people’s problems and so on. When his friend Jim Fulford is stabbed, he is determined to find out who is responsible. In the meantime, DC Natalie Kershaw is investigating the death of a man who seems to have jumped from the top of the Canary Wharf Tower. The two cases do have a connection, and Kershaw and Kiszka form an uneasy alliance to find out the truth. At one point, the two travel to Poland, and Kiszka makes an interesting observation. He is from the generation that was determined to throw off Soviet-dominated control of the country. That generation, from his perspective, had a strong sense of national pride and solid Polish values and traditions. He notices that the young people, who’ve grown up after the end of the Soviet era, have much less of a sense of national pride. On the one hand, they are more global in outlook. On the other, they have less of a sense of what it is to be Polish. It’s a fascinating look at the effect of global media on a generation of people.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Ilsa Klein and her parents left Leipzig during the Cold War years when leaving what was then East Germany meant risking one’s life. They ended up in Alexandra, on New Zealand’s South Island, and made lives for themselves. Ilsa loved her former home, friends and extended family and found it difficult to adjust to a new country and a different language. But over the years she has settled in and become a secondary school teacher. She begins to be concerned when one of her most promising students Serena Freeman starts slipping away. Serena skips school and even when she is there, shows little interest. It’s a disturbing change and Ilsa wants to help if she can. She and her mother Gerda find that getting involved in Serena’s life has consequences that they couldn’t have imagined. Throughout the novel, we see a marked generational difference between Gerda’s and Ilsa’s feelings about Germany. Ilsa is nostalgic for Leipzig and her life there. She acknowledges that New Zealand has been a good place, with basically good people, but it’s never really been her home. Gerda on the other hand sees things differently. She is older and knows exactly what the Stasi, the East German secret police, were like. She remembers the betrayals and denunciations, and for her, Germany has no appeal. It’s a very interesting difference in perspective, and generation plays a big role in it.

Even for people who haven’t been through experiences such as war and repression, just belonging to a different generation means a different outlook from the previous and younger generations. It’s part of what defines a person. Where have you seen this difference in outlook in the crime fiction you’ve read?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s My Generation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Paddy Richardson, Qiu Xiaolong, Roger Smith, Tony Hillerman

We’re Not the Same But We Can Talk*

Different CulturesAs I’ve mentioned before on this blog, culture has profound effects on the way we think, act, dress and speak. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how much we are affected by culture until we work with someone from another culture. The experience of working with a team-mate from another culture can broaden our horizons and enrich us. But it can be awkward at times too. Different cultures see the world in different ways, and those differences can result in ‘culture clash.’ But as the world continues to get smaller, so to speak, it’s more and more the case that people work with others from different cultures.

In fiction, those cultural differences, and the way they’re worked out, can add a really interesting layer to a story. Certainly it can in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more than I can.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are from two different cultures. In many ways their cultural differences don’t impede their work. Yet there are some cultural issues that both of them have had to get used to over time. For instance, Poirot grew up in a culture where greeting and leave-taking involves embracing. Hastings on the other hand is not accustomed to that kind of physical contact in that context. So Poirot has had to learn to shake hands, because he knows that anything else makes Hastings feel awkward. For his part, Hastings has had to get used to Poirot’s habit of hot chocolate for breakfast and tisane instead of beer, wine or something like whisky. Their cultural differences add an interesting layer to their characters and a measure of interest to the stories that feature them.

In Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go, we meet Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ for London’s Polish community. When a young woman named Weronika goes missing, her landlady Pani Tosik gets concerned and asks her priest about it. The priest in turn asks Kiszka to try to find out where Weronika is and what happened to her. The trail leads to a friend of Weronika’s, who is later found murdered. That’s how Kiszka’s path crosses that of DC Natalie Kershaw, who is investigating a series of deaths. The two are suspicious of each other at first. Kershaw sees Kiszka as a possible suspect in the murders. For his part, Kiszka isn’t fond of the police to begin with, and Kershaw is certainly not his idea of what a cop ought to be like. They have many cultural differences too that make communication a challenge. But slowly they begin to work together as each comes to see that the other can be helpful. You couldn’t call them friends, even at the end of the novel, but they do establish an understanding and they do learn to work together.

Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan has to work with someone from a different culture in Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money. Madeleine Avery has hired Quinlan to find her missing brother Charles. Since Charles Avery’s last known whereabouts was Bangkok, Quinlan starts his search there. It turns out that Avery isn’t in Bangkok though. He’s gone on to Cambodia, so Quinlan follows the trail there. When he gets to Phnom Penh, Quinlan meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin, who’s lived in Cambodia all his life. Sarin and Quinlan are from different cultures, but each has reasons to want to find out what happened to Avery. As the novel goes on, Nette uses those cultural differences to share some of Cambodia’s history and culture with the reader. And it’s interesting to see how these two, who are from very different backgrounds, work together.

Angela Savage’s PI Jayne Keeney is also Australian. She lives and works in Bangkok though, so she’s gotten accustomed to the Thai culture. Keeney is a reader of crime fiction (you gotta like that in a fictional sleuth ;-) ) so she becomes a regular at a bookshop in Bangkok’s Indian neighbourhood. That’s how she meets Rajiv Patel, whose uncle owns the shop. In The Half Child, we learn that Patel is from a traditional New Delhi family. He doesn’t want to live that traditional lifestyle, but he is a product of that culture. Keeney of course has her own culture and cultural assumptions. The two become business partners and later, lovers, so they are motivated to work together and get along. But they do sometimes have to bridge cultural gaps. For instance, Patel communicates a great deal of information by moving his head in certain ways. As we learn in The Dying Beach, Keeney comes to know that Patel’s side-to-side head nods are

 

‘…as nuanced as a Thai smile…’

 

Patel has to get used to Keeney’s way of looking at life too, and it does cause friction between them. Those cultural differences and nuances add much to this series.

In Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing, Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police is asked to go to Beijing to help investigate the death of Justin Tan. Justin was the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy, so his death is not going to be ignored. What’s more, his mother believes he was deliberately murdered. The police theory is that he was murdered in a robbery gone wrong, and that’s the theory under which Singh operates when he begins his investigation. But soon enough he begins to suspect that Susan Tan is right. As he digs more deeply into the case, Singh works with former Beijing police officer Li Jun to find out who would have wanted to kill the boy and why. Singh and Li Jun are from different cultures, and they have to get used to each other. And sometimes that does cause some tension. But each respects the other and each has skills that contribute to solving the case.

What’s interesting about cultural differences is that you don’t even have to be from a different country to have cultural differences. Just as an example, Domingo Villar’s Leo Caldas is Galician by birth and culture. He lives and works in Vigo and is accustomed to life there. His assistant Rafael Estevez on the other hand is from Zaragoza, in the autonomous community of Aragon. Even though both men are Spanish, they are from different cultures and have different ways of looking at life. And those differences do come up in the course of their investigations, although each respects the other. It’s an interesting look at the number of different cultures there can be, even in the same country.

I’ve only had space to mention a few examples of team-mates who work through cultural differences. There are a lot of others of course (e.g. Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, or Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden and Fr. John O’Malley). Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Unholy Trinity.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Anya Lipska, Craig Johnson, Domingo Villar, Margaret Coel, Shamini Flint

You’ve Got a Friend in Me*

BuddiesOne of the more popular kinds of films is the ‘buddy film.’ In that sort of film there are two protagonists, and the film explores their friendship while at the same time featuring a separate plot. Some ‘buddy films’ are cop films (e.g. Walter Hill’s 48 Hours). Others are ‘road films’ (e.g. Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise). There are other variants on the theme too of course. Over the years it’s been a successful premise for a film, and we see it a lot in crime fiction too.

You’ll notice in this post that I won’t be talking about series such as Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe series, where the two protagonists are superior/subordinate. I’m also not going to focus on novels where there’s a possible or budding romance between the two protagonists. To me, that’s a different dynamic. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ‘buddy’ crime fiction.

One of the earlier examples of this sort of dynamic is G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Hercule Flambeau. When they first meet in The Blue Cross, Flambeau is a master jewel thief. In that story, Father Brown is en route to a large gathering of priests. He’s carrying with him a large silver cross set with sapphires, a most attractive prize for a thief like Flambeau. Father Brown finds an interesting way to deal with Flambeau and as the stories go on, we see how the two men form a friendship. They respect each other and later, they solve cases together. It’s an interesting dynamic, and readers can see how that dynamic evolves as the stories go on.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp on several cases. As we learn in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, they’ve known each other for some time, too – since before Poirot left his native Belgium for England. Poirot is certainly not modest when it comes to his own abilities, but he respects Japp. And he knows Japp has access to resources and information that he, Poirot, doesn’t have. So he doesn’t really treat Japp as a sidekick. For his part, Japp pokes fun at Poirot’s ‘tortuous mind,’ and he isn’t blind to Poirot’s faults. But he respects Poirot’s brilliance as a detective. The two do develop a friendship over the course of the novels, and they depend on each other’s expertise.

Another interesting ‘buddy series’ is Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delalware/Milo Sturgis novels. Delaware is a forensic psychologist with a former career as a psychotherapist. Sturgis is a cop with the LAPD. Beginning with When the Bough Breaks, the two work together on cases where Delaware’s expertise is needed. In that novel, psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez are found murdered. The key to the murder may lie with seven-year-old Melody Quinn, who was a witness. So Sturgis asks Delaware to work with Melody to help her remember as much as she can. The murders turn out to be related to some of the characters’ past histories, and to some things going on at an orphanage. Over the course of the novels, Delaware and Sturgis maintain their friendship although it is tested at times. They rely on one another and they trust each other.

There’s also Craig Johnson’ Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear. Fans of this series will know that Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Henry Standing Bear is a member of the Cheyenne Nation, and also the owner of The Red Pony, a local bar/restaurant.  The two men have been friends for a long time – since both served in Viet Nam. There are times when they don’t agree, and sometimes they annoy each other. But underneath, they trust each other, quite literally, with their lives. They get in more than one extremely dangerous situation together, and as the series goes on, we also see how they depend on one another.

We see an interesting case of the ‘buddy’ theme in Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil. Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and her team are investigating the bizarre multiple murders of Jacob Schyttelius and his parents. At first, it looks as though the murders might be the work of a Satanist group. But that theory is soon disproved. Another very real possibility is that the murders were committed by someone with an animus against the whole family. If that’s true, then Jacob’s sister Rebecka may be in danger. So Huss travels to London, where Rebecka Schyttelius works with a computer development company. While there, Huss works with Met police inspector Glen Thompson. Thompson has local connections, local authority, and access to information that Huss needs. For her part, Huss has particulars of the case at hand. So the two complement each other as they combine forces. It turns out that that co-operation is important, since the key to this case is in the Schyttelius family’s past as well as Rebecka’s life in London. In the course of the novel, Huss and Thompson do develop a friendship, and we can see how they learn to work together.

There’s also an interesting case of a ‘buddy’ crime novel in Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go. Janusz Kiszka is an unofficial ‘fixer’ in London’s Polish community. So when Father Piotr Pietruzki hears of some disturbing news, Kiszka is the man he trusts. It seems that a young woman named Weronika, who hasn’t been in London very long, has recently disappeared. So Kiszka agrees to ask some questions and see what he can learn. Weronika was last seen with a boyfriend Pawel Adamski, so Kiszka and his friend Oskar begin to trace the couple. In the meantime, DC Natalie Kershaw and DS Alvin ‘Streaky’ Bacon are investigating two murders that turn out to be related to Weronika’s disappearance. In the course of the investigation, Kershaw meets Kiszka, first considering him a suspect, and then as a sort of ally, as she investigates. And that relationship is in itself interesting. So is the ‘buddy’ relationship between Kiszka and his friend Oskar. The two have known each other for some time. They’re drinking and card-playing buddies, and in the course of this novel, they also work together on Weronika’s disappearance.

There are of course lots of other solid ‘buddy’ series and novels (I know, I know, fans of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury/Melrose Plant novels). Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Randy Newman

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Craig Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Helene Tursten, Jonathan Kellerman, Martha Grimes

In The Spotlight: Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go

>In The Spotlight: Ngaio Marsh's Tied Up in TinselHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Most large cities have unique immigrant communities. They add to the area’s diversity and they become part of the complex tapestry that is a modern city. They can also be fascinating contexts for crime fiction. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at London’s Polish community. Let’s turn the spotlight on Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go.

Janusz Kiszka is an unofficial ‘fixer’ and problem-solver for London’s East End Polish community. He’s well known and trusted much more than the police are. So he’s a natural choice to ask for help when Father Piotr Pietruzki hears something upsetting from one of his parishioners Pani Tosik. Pani Tosik has been looking after a young woman Weronika who came to London to start a modeling career. Weronika has disappeared, and although she’s adult who certainly has the right to go where she wants, she and Pani Tosik were on good terms, and she hasn’t been in contact. Fr. Pietruzki asks Kiszka to see what he can find out, and Kiszka agrees to start asking questions.

He soon learns that Weronika probably went off with a boyfriend Pawel Adamski, a young man who has a questionable reputation and recently seems to have come into money. So with help from his friend Oskar, Kiszka starts to trace the young couple’s movements. Some help comes from Weronika’s friend Justyna Kozlowska, but not long after she tells Kiszka what she knows, he and Oskar find her dead, apparently of a drug overdose. That’s when Kiszka meets DC Natalie Kershaw. Kershaw and her boss DS Alvin ‘Streaky’ Bacon are investigating Justyna’s death as well as an earlier murder that may be related.

Kershaw initially suspects Kiszka of Justyna’s murder (more on that shortly), but other evidence soon proves her wrong. So she and Bacon have to look elsewhere for answers. In the meantime, Kiszka makes a return trip to Poland to find out everything he can about Pawel Adamski. He believes that he’ll be more likely to find out what happened to Weronika if he can trace Adamski.

When Kiszka returns to London to follow up on what he’s found, he and Kershaw begin to get past their initial mutual mistrust and start sharing information. Bit by bit, they get to the truth about the murders, about Weronika’s disappearance, and about Pawel Adamski. It turns out that much of what takes place has its roots in Poland’s past and in her present political climate.

One of the most important elements in this novel is the cultural setting – the modern Polish community in London. It’s a tightly-knit community with its own resources, connections and so on. It’s those connections that get Kiszka involved in the case to begin with, and his membership in that community is extremely valuable to Kershaw as she and Bacon work to solve the case. Through both of their eyes we see the Polish community from the inside and from the outside. Lipska provides a fascinating look Polish customs, food, drink, and so on, and shows how they remain vibrant in London. It’s also worth noting that there’s also some Polish language included in the novel. That said though, Lipska includes plenty of English-language context so that readers who don’t speak Polish are in no doubt as to what’s meant.

We also get a look at modern Poland. Kiszka hasn’t been back to Poland in quite a long time, so although he’s ‘one of them,’ he is in a way also a stranger. Through his eyes, we see Polish life and how it’s changed (and in some ways, remained the same) since the days of the Gdansk uprising. The events in the story are related to the Polish political scene and the ‘growing pains’ the country experienced after the breakup of the Soviet Union. As Kiszka follows Pawel Adamski’s history, we learn how events in Poland have affected the London Polish community.

There’s also an interesting generation gap between people of Kiszka’s age (he is 45) and older, who remember life in Poland during Soviet rule, and those who were born after Polish independence. They speak the same language and in some important ways, share the same culture. But they have a very different outlook on life.

Also an important element in this novel is the cultural gap between London’s Polish community and the dominant English community. Neither group is portrayed as ‘the good guys’ or ‘the bad guys,’ but there are some important differences in customs, outlook on life and so on. Even the way Kershaw and Kiszka go about looking for answers is different. Just as one example, when Kiszka visits Poland, he discovers that he’s learned to adjust so much to the English culture that he sometimes doesn’t do things in the Polish way. Here’s a scene that takes place when he’s visiting a storage facility and has just greeted its owner:

 

‘Janusz returned the greeting with a smile, then quickly straightened his face. He’s already earned a few confused – and suspicious – looks in Gdansk, beaming unthinkingly at shopkeepers and passers-by. It was a habit he’d picked up in England, where a smile was the smallest and commonest coin of social currency.’

 

It’s an interesting example of the way Kiszka has to bridge cultural gaps in the course of his search for answers.

Kiszka’s character is another important element in this novel. He’s had some real sadness in his past, and he’s made his share of mistakes. But he’s not self-pitying and he hasn’t drowned himself in drink. He negotiates the English and Polish cultures in an interesting way, and he is just about as much at home in London as he is in Gdansk.

Natalie Kershaw’s character is also woven through the novel. She’s young, but not what you’d call flighty. She’s a smart detective too, although like all of us, she makes mistakes. Readers who are tired of both helpless, clingy female characters and ‘superhero,’ unrealistic female characters will be pleased to know that she is neither.

Through Kershaw’s eyes, we also see the police procedural elements in this novel. There’s a hint of police politics in the way Kershaw goes about her work too, but it’s not really a major theme. Still, we see how she interacts with her colleagues, how she sees herself fitting into the force and how the cops get things done.

We also see the way Kershaw and Kiszka’s relationship develops. And lest you make the obvious inference, it’s not a romantic relationship. It develops though from mutual mistrust and suspicion to mutual respect, and it’s interesting to see how their different skills and knowledge help to solve the case.

Where the Devil Can’t Go is a look at modern Poland, at London’s Polish community, and at the way the police work a case when the people involved are from a very different immigrant community. The case is solved in a credible way and the novel introduces two believable protagonists. But what’s your view? Have you read Where the Devil Can’t Go? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 10 February/Tuesday 11 February – Bruno, Chief of Police – Martin Walker

Monday 17 February/Tuesday 18 February – A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill

Monday 24 February/Tuesday 25 February – Chris Grabenstein – Tilt a Whirl

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