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by Marek Krajewski and Danusia Stok, trans.
Maclehose Press, August 2011
288 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0857381938

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Criminal Assistant Eberhard Mock is a womaniser, a glutton and a drunkard but nonetheless takes his work seriously. When the singularly disfigured bodies of four men are discovered, with a note suggesting further deaths will follow if Mock does not admit his 'mistake', Mock is ordered to assist with the investigation. He energetically pursues the matter, but people he questions suffer a fate similar to the original four. The criminal is clearly someone close to the investigation, and the threats become very personal. Mock tries to protect his informants by shutting them away and, in desperation, by distancing himself from the case completely, but he is unable to protect those closest to him.

The most unusual, and interesting, aspect of PHANTOMS OF BRESLAU is the context. Marek Krajewski is Polish and born in the city he writes about here, though, of course some forty years later. The smells, noises and sights of 1919 Breslau permeate the book, conveying a convincing atmosphere of the time. Though Breslau (now Wroclaw) is now Poland's fourth largest city, at the time it was in Prussia and had quite a small Polish-speaking population. It was a focal point for German nationalist unrest in the early 1920s. Violence, political factionalism and low moral standards are evidently the outcome of the war years; social cohesion has been undermined and the viciousness of the crimes depicted seems somehow to be all of a piece with the general brutality and indifference of the society against which they are set. Isherwood's books set in Berlin in the 1930's have a somewhat similar background feel, although by that time the nastiness has a sharper focus.

It is interesting to compare the portrayal of Germany in PHANTOMS OF BRESLAU with novels set in Britain at the same period, from such writers as Aldous Huxley, C P Snow, or Evelyn Waugh. The Great War was a tremendous shock to the system in Britain too, with massive social changes set in train, but while confusion and anxiety characterised the period the social fabric never seemed so fragile, or so likely to disintegrate completely. It is difficult to read this book without recognising signs of the developments in Germany that were to lead to such a ghastly outcome for so many within another twenty years.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, November 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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