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by Zygmunt Miloszewski and Antonia Lloyd-Jones, trans.
Bitter Lemon, September 2012
267 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 1908524022

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Prosecutor Teodor Szacki was first encountered in ENTANGLEMENT, set in Warsaw. In A GRAIN OF TRUTH he has left his wife and moved to Sandomierz, a picturesque but provincial town. Far from his normal milieu, he feels like a fish out of water. A popular teacher is killed; the means of death and a weapon found nearby suggest a Jewish ritual killing. Szacki's investigations reveal that the town has a long history of Catholic/Jewish conflict, continuing up to and after WWII. However, he is unable to make much progress with the case and another death quickly follows. Szacki needs to overcome his lack of local knowledge and find the keys to the crime despite the distraction of the hysterical publicity surrounding the case.

Teodor Szacki makes an interesting detective, mercurial and quick-thinking, with little tolerance for stupidity or prejudice. His white hair, sharp dressing and lack of respect for convention make him stand out in the sleepy backwater of Sandomierz and highlight the differences in thinking which complicate resolution of the case. His reputation has proceeded him and his superstar status does nothing to undermine his pulling power and we come to appreciate his professional dedication and hear enough of his regrets for what he has left in Warsaw to make him a sympathetic protagonist.

The interaction of Jews and Catholics in Poland is explored at length as Szacki delves into possible motivations for the crimes he is investigating, and provides plenty of interest. The active participation of the Catholic Church in the most appalling actions against Jews shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but post-war prejudice, bolstered by the substantial representation of Jews in the despised Communist state apparatus, is something outsiders may not be aware of. Just why antagonism between the two communities should be so bad in Poland is a matter for historians; but, as with such hatreds elsewhere, once they grow to be so deep-seated, they become very hard to eradicate.

Despite the dark subject-matter referred to above, Zygmunt Miloszewski has a light touch and A GRAIN OF TRUTH is balanced with plenty of humour. Each day of the investigation is introduced with a short bulletin of world-wide and Polish events, an idiosyncratic selection highlighting some of the more ironic items in the news, especially when seen in juxtaposition. Miloszewski also has plenty to say about the weather, in particular how disappointing spring in Poland can be.

After reading a number of books originally written in a foreign language, the dilemma of the translator becomes clear: how to render the words to accurately catch the sense of the original, but at the same time retaining some of the linguistic features which distinguish the language in question, and help to establish an authentic atmosphere. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who translated A GRAIN OF TRUTH, does well in this respect and Miloszewski is likely to become popular overseas as well as at home.

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

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, August 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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