Bloody Murder in the East

New crime writing from the former Eastern Bloc – a list.

Words Without Borders has just come out with its (Non-Scandinavian) Crime issue for December. It’s an excellent and varied selection though there is only one short piece from Eastern Europe in an extract from Sergey Kuznetsov’s Butterfly Skin translated by Andrew Bromfield.

With that in mind I thought I’d make up a list of Central and Eastern European Crime novels, the newest entrants in the European crime field, but far from being the least criminal:

1 – Entanglement by Zygmunt Miłoszewski

Set in Warsaw in the 90s the book follows Polish State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki as he investigates a brutal murder that took place during a special psychiatric weekend retreat and whose causes stretch back into the dark, still unexamined corners of Poland’s recent communist past.

2 – A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miłoszewski

Prosecutor Teodor Szacki has left the capital but his rural retreat goes from being too short of murder to having a case that opens up a hornet’s nest of the most troubled moments of Poland’s Jewish past.

3 – Budapest Noir by Vilmos Kondor

Towards the end of the interwar years, themurder of a Jewish prostitute in Budapest seems to get even more high-level attention than the death of the prime minister, prompting suspicion in crime reporter Zsigmond Gordon. See literalab’s review here.

4 – Zift by Vladislav Todorov

A Communist-era heist story and a ex-con’s saga of a triangle of love, hate and betrayal. Also turned into a similarly bleak and atmospheric film.

5 – Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Kurkov’s writing occupies the surreal edges of crime fiction, with Ukrainian and Russian mafia figures happily coexisting with a penguin and almost otherworldly schemes. The first of two books.

6 – Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov

The sequel to Death and the Penguin, which besides being a crime novel is a war novel (Chechnya) too. See literalab’s review here.

7 – The Case of the General’s Thumb by Andrey Kurkov

No penguins in this one, but no shortage of captivating strangeness. In fact, you could argue (as I did) that Kurkov pushes the boundaries and definition of the crime and espionage novels with this book. See literalab’s review here.

8 – Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski

The introduction of German policeman Eberhard Mock ruthlessly navigating his way through a brutal murder case in Hitler’s Germany. If Kurkov if crime fiction’s surrealist then Krajewski is its symbolist, with ancient inscriptions, orgy scenes and sinister secrets from the distant past. Released in the UK in 2008 by MacLehose Press/Quercus the book has just been published in the US by Melville House.

9- The End of the World in Breslau by Marek Krajewski

The second Eberhard Mock novel set in the late 1920s.

10 – Phantoms of Breslau by Marek Krajewski

The third book in the series goes back to 1919 when Mock is a criminal assistant facing off against a secret society.

11 – The Minotaur’s Head by Marek Krajewski

The latest Mock novel, following a 1939 murder the book’s chief protagonist Lvov Commisioner Popielski recounts the 1937 case of the Minotaur, a serial murderer who raped and partially devoured the faces of his virgin victims. Collaborating across the border with Mock the two eccentric policemen form a vital friendship.

12 – Madame Mephisto by A. M. Bakalar

A Polish immigrant in London is explaining her double life of temp work by day and drug dealing by night to an unidentified captive listener as they wait for a funeral the reader is equally in the dark about. See literalab’s review here.

I realize I left some books and writers out – Boris Akunin, for example. If there are others you can think of, feel free to add them in the comments or let me know otherwise.

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Categories: Books


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4 Comments on “Bloody Murder in the East”

  1. 13/12/2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Would the Lt. Boruvka books of Josef Skvorecky fit in with your list? I read these before discovering his other works.

  2. jezibaba
    15/12/2012 at 6:38 pm #

    ok this is unrelated (sorry) but i just came across your kafka on film post and wasn’t sure if you would see this comment on such an old post. some kafka films that might be good: a country doctor – koji yamamura, the metamorphosis of mr samsa – caroline leaf, franz kafka – piotr dumala, katariina lillqvist’s kafka trilogy, class relations – huillet-straub, joseph kilian – pavel juracek, and the penal colony – raoul ruiz.

  3. 15/12/2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Wow, thanks. I just bookmarked the Yamamura film, but haven’t heard of the others though probably should have. Will look them up.


  1. Literary roundup: Polish crime goes big time and two tragicomic views | literalab - 20/03/2014

    […] Since then I have surveyed regional crime fiction for Publishing Perspectives, have added to those lists here, with a particularly strong presence of Polish crime writers, that the “traditional print […]

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