As they walked down the lonely naked streets, the sounds of horses trotting in the distance trickled through the empty roads, reverberating around the buildings surrounding them. Apartment blocks, small shops selling boutique clothing, groceries, and a newsstand here and there, were all closed and quiet for the night.
The city of Praha (Prague) is in an uproar. Somebody has killed Peter, the eldest son of Baroness Teralov and heir apparent of the Teralov financial empire. The people are agog and baying for blood especially as the Teralov family has helped them much in these difficult times, post the Great War and after the country’s independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Peter’s father was a Russian oligarch, the newly formed Soviet Union dispatch one of their shrewdest investigators, Edgar Rollenvart, to solve the case and bring the culprit to justice. It is a case that will take Edgar and the victim’s younger brother, Juraj, to various cities and haunts of Czechoslovakia as they hunt for the murderer who stays one step ahead in a plot that twists and turns to an unsettling climax.
When this book was offered for review, I entered into the draw because I was really curious to know more about Czechoslovakia. Though a majority of my reading is set in Europe, it is UK and to some extent Western Europe that one reads about the most. The other parts of Europe remain an unknown entity so I was really keen to read about the culture of a country that now doesn’t even exist on the map having become two states [Czech Republic and Slovakia] after the fall of the Communist bloc.
Hence it was interesting to read about:
The central station of Prague was both grand and glorious. Its black high-reaching beams formed an arched structure, crafted from iron. The casting presence of the tall terminal made for a significant break in the city’s landscape. At night, it cast a silhouette across the infrastructure and streets surrounding it. A mainstay and important economic hub for the city, trains bustling in and out from various places all over Europe. Frequently, passengers would arrive from Berlin in Germany, Budapest in Hungary, and from Vienna in Austria. Cargo would also be transported to and from the station, especially towards more industrious areas such as Stuttgart in Germany and Wroclaw in Poland.
Leading the front was a magnificent, black steam locomotive, painted proudly with stripes of blue, white and red to represent the nation.
or about the dresses :
The men wore white shirts with black jackets and shoes and cordial brown trousers. The women were dressed in neat traditional white dresses, with bands of red ribbons draped across their blouse, their hair tied smartly into buns.
Juraj startled Edgar, who was caught within his own thoughts, when he abruptly sat down opposite him. He had two small glasses in hand containing clear liquid.
‘Slivovica,’ smiled Juraj, his eyes bright with youthful vigour.
‘And what, may I ask, exactly is Slivovica?’ questioned Edgar, a look of slight trepidation sewn across his face.
‘It is like vodka, but made from plums,’ stated Juraj, ‘only, this is better.’ Smirking cheerfully, Juraj raised his glass.
The thing that struck me, most forcefully, while reading the book was how different (from my usual reads) was the reaction to death in this. Don’t know whether this is a cultural thing or not but the author takes pain to show how death can devastate a family, the emotional turmoil it can cause, and a portrayal of people not afraid of showing those emotions (unlike a majority of GAD novels where we have too much of a stiff-upper-lip).
Another interesting aspect was that people were not well-disposed towards the Soviets. The hostility that Edgar arouses in the people he questions because of his being a Soviet, compels him to note (which also reveals something of his character) thus in his diary:
My presence here feels unwelcome. I sense the distrust and distance of the people around me, yet I will continue without complaint. I do what I must for my country, and my country wills me to solve this case and represent the best and good of our own people—even in the face of animosity or fear.
Besides these cultural nuggets what I liked about the book was its fast-pace. Right from the first page, the reader is thrown in the midst of the mystery. There is no build-up to the murder. The killing has happened and the detective has to unmask the murderer. Concentration being a problem in these Corona days, this was a good thing because any extra-padding makes me lose interest in a book real fast. However, the downside of this was that we don’t really get to know the characters well. Except for the Baroness, there was little about the other characters, they flit about and disappear and so it was hard to get invested in them though Juraj, to me, was the most sympathetic.
Another thing that could have served the book better was some tight editing. The sentences often appeared choppy and occasionally jumped from one tense to another. These problems, perhaps inevitable in a self-published debut, do not, however, distract much from the mystery which is good (I could not guess the culprit) and keeps one turning the pages. If the writer turns this into a series, I’ll definitely be interested in reading it.
Give it a try.
[Received an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review]
First Line: Tidy, small alleyways were paved with cobblestone.
Publication Details: Self-published by KDP, 2020
First Published: 2020