The third and apparently final story to feature Polish prosecutor Teodor Szacki is a cracker of a read, especially for those who don’t mind their protagonists jaded and their humour black. Very, very black.
Szacki is living and working in Olsztyn, geographically and socially distant from his beloved Warsaw. Whatever other awards the book’s author may have picked up I’m pretty confident he won’t be receiving any love from the Olsztyn tourism board which can’t be happy at his depiction of their city. I am left with the impression that the only beauty comes from architecture the Germans left behind while everything is else is “bland at best, but usually hideous,” that the traffic engineers head the list of incompetent public officials and that even the weather can’t do anything right
Some sort of Warmian crap was coming out of the sky, neither rain, nor snow, nor hail. The stuff froze as soon as it hit the windshield, and even on the fastest setting the wipers couldn’t scrape off this mysterious substance. The windshield washer fluid did nothing but smear it around
But while it may not be an inviting depiction of place it is certainly evocative and one of the real strengths of the novel. This is not one of those ‘could take place anywhere’ books.
Another strength is Teodor Szacki. He is not likeable in the traditional sense and some of his inner thoughts border on the deeply troublesome but he is compelling and the kind of person I am drawn to, in fiction and in real life. His flaws seem more human than those that have become clichéd for fictional detectives though perhaps this is simply because they are not the normal things one expects. He is for instance depicted as someone for whom life is a constant tussle between the man he wants the world to see and the man he really is. Sometimes this plays out in minor ways – such as drinking black coffee which he hates but thinks is more manly – and sometimes much more significantly. Like when the disdain of a junior prosecutor makes him re-think his offhand dealing with a woman who might have been subject to domestic violence. His strained relationship with his teenage daughter is due in part to this dichotomy too though there are other elements at play. It’s a beautifully and realistically drawn relationship, with both parties showing difficulties expressing their true feelings, and another highlight of the novel.
For me the story is the least successful part of the novel. The first half of it had me completely gripped but then it started to lose its authenticity and by the end was, frankly, farcical. It’s so hard to talk about why I felt this without giving away spoilers but I’ll just say it strayed to far into ‘world being orchestrated by a tortuous mastermind’ territory for me. The themes it explores make it worth reading though. Domestic violence is a pretty ‘hot’ topic these days but it can always do with more exposure and particularly from the male perspective. This is a book I can imagine recommending to a male reader who might need or want to learn something about this issue which is not something I can say about many of the books written by women on this topic. I don’t mean to be dismissive of those stories and the voices they allow to shine, but if we want to actually effect change in the world then we have to give men a way to learn about what’s OK and what isn’t too and they are far more likely to take notice of other men. The issue is explored in depth here and with enough nuance to give all readers some awkward moments, especially when combined with the exploration of the notion of accountability. Everyone in RAGE is forced to take responsibility for their actions or their lack of action.
Miloszewski has spoken about his work in translation as being a real collaboration and that does shine through here. There is humour and cynicism and all manner of linguistic delights that demonstrate Antonia Lloyd-Jones did a lot more than choose English equivalents for Polish words. The final product is a thought-provoking, memorable romp of a read that I highly recommend.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Publisher Amazon Crossing [2016, original edition 2014]
Length 428 pages
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #3 in the Teodor Szacki series