Review: A Grain Of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo.

Bitter Lemon Press, 2012. Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Originally titled: Ziarno prawdy, 2011. Format Kindle Edition. 1241 KB. ASIN: B00918JM9C. eISBN: 978-1904738-633.

 A Grain of Truth

The story takes place between Wednesday, 15th April and Friday, 8th May 2009 in Sandomierz. Late in the nineteen century, before the break up of Poland, Sandomierz had five Jewish hostelries, a synagogue, 3,250 Catholics, fifty Orthodox Christian, one Protestant and 2,715 Jews.

Prosecutor Teodor Szaski, after a brief and mutually unsatisfying affair with a journalist, Monika Grzelka, has just put an end to his fifteen years of marriage and moved from Warsaw to Sandomierz, where we find him investigating a bizarre murder case with the assistance of Inspector Leon Wilczur. In a city with a long history of conflicts between Catholics and Jews, where everyone knows everyone, the victim, Elzbieta “Ela” Budnik, has been murdered in a way that suggest a ritual killing. The prosecutor in charge should have been Barbara ‘”Basia” Sobieraj, however their boss. Maria “Misia” Miszczyk, has kept her off the case since Basia was a close friend of Ela and her husband, Grzegorz Budnik.

“Grzegorz Budnik had been a Sandomierz councillor “for ever”, i.e. since 1990, with unfulfilled mayoral aspiration, and his late wife Elzbieta (Ela for short), fifteen years his junior, was an English teacher at the famous “Number One” –in other words the grammar school that occupied the building of the old Jesuit collage– ran an arts club for children and was active in every possible kind of local cultural event. They lived in a small house on Katedralna Street, apparently once occupied by Iwaszkiewicz, the famous writer. Not particularly wealthy, childless, ageing philanthropists. With no political colouring. If one were forced to look for labels, he would have been a Red because of his past on the National Council, and she a Black –a conservative traditionalist– because of her involvement in church initiatives and mildly professed Catholic faith.”

Ela’s husband is deeply affected, but when Szacki finds out that she had a lover, Grzegorz becomes the prime suspect. Shortly before his arrest, Grzegorz is murdered in similar circumstances and Szacki will have to deal with the delicate Catholic/Jewish relationships, and with events that took place more than sixty years ago.

‘Instead of acting contrary to his expectations by looking for mistakes in this whole performance he was letting himself be led by the nose. Like the ideal spectator of an illusionist’s show, who isn’t looking to see what the other hand is doing, for fear of spoiling his evening’s entertainment.’ 

Although the main character may be irritating and is difficult to empathize with him, overall I really enjoyed this rather complex and interesting whodunit, superior in my view to his previous book, Entanglement. The plot is well structured. The historical references are fascinating. The characters are attractive, and the dialogues are clever and have a nice sense of humour. Even the solution to this puzzle is quite satisfactory in my view.     

My rating: 5/5.

A Grain of Truth is the second book in the series featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki. My review of Entanglement, the first in the series is HERE.

A Grain of Truth has been reviewed by Chris Roberts at Reviewing the evidence, NacyO at The crime segments, and Glenn at International Noir Fiction

Una pizca de verdad de Zygmunt Miloszewski

La historia tiene lugar entre el miércoles 15 de abril y el viernes 8 de mayo de 2009 en Sandomierz. A finales del siglo XIX, antes de la desintegración de Polonia, Sandormierz tenía cinco posadas judías, una sinagoga, 3.250 católicos, cincuenta cristianos ortodoxos, un protestante y 2.715 judíos.

El fiscal Teodor Szaski, después de una aventura breve y poco satisfactoria para ambos con una periodista, Monika Grzelka, acaba de poner fin a sus quince años de matrimonio y se ha trasladado a Sandomierz desde Varsovia, donde le encontramos investigando un extraño caso de asesinato con la ayuda del Inspector León Wilczur. En una ciudad con una larga historia de conflictos entre católicos y judíos, donde todos se conocen, la víctima, Elzbieta “Ela” Budnik, ha sido asesinada de una manera que sugiere un crimen ritual. El fiscal a cargo debería haber sido Bárbara “Basia” Sobieraj, sin embargo su jefe Maria “Misia” Miszczyk le ha mantenido fuera del caso dado que Basia era amiga cercana de Ela y de su marido, Grzegorz Budnik.

“Grzegorz Budnik había sido concejal de Sandomierz “siempre”, es decir, desde 1990, con la aspiración incumplida de llegar a ser alcalde, y su difunta esposa Elzbieta (Ela, para los conocidos), quince años menor que él, era profesora de Inglés en el famoso “Number One”, es decir, en la escuela primaria que ocupa el edificio del antiguo colegio de los jesuitas, dirigía un departamento de arte para niños y participaba activamente en todo clase de evento cultural local posible. Vivían en una pequeña casa en la calle Katedralna, al parecer ocupada anteriormente por el famoso escritor Iwaszkiewicz. No particulamente ricos, sin hijos, envejecían como filántropos. Sin claras tendencias políticas. Si uno se hubiera visto obligado a etiquetarlos, él habría sido un Rojo por su pasado en el Consejo Nacional, y ella una Negra, una conservadora tradicionalista, por su participación en las iniciativas de la Iglesia y por sus ligeramente declaradas creencias católicas.”

El marido de Ela está profundamente afectado, pero cuando Szacki descubre que ella tenía un amante, Grzegorz se convierte en el principal sospechoso. Poco antes de ser arrestado, Grzegorz es asesinado en circunstancias similares y Szacki va a tener que hacer frente a las delicadas relaciones entre católicos y judios, así como a unos hechos ocurridos hace más de sesenta años.

“En lugar de actuar en contra de sus expectativas buscando errores en todo este asunto se dejaba guiar por su olfato.  Al igual que el espectador ideal de un espectáculo ilusionista, que no mira lo que hace la otra mano, por miedo a estropear su entretenimiento de esa tarde.”

Aunque el personaje principal puede ser irritante y es difícil empatizar con él, en general, me gustó mucho este whodunit bastante complejo e interesante, superior a mi juicio, a su libro anterior, Entanglement. La trama está bien estructurada. Las referencias históricas son fascinantes. Los personajes son atractivos, y los diálogos son inteligentes y tienen un buen sentido del humor. Incluso la solución a este rompecabezas es bastante satisfactoria en mi opinión.

Mi valoración: 5/5.

A grain of truth es el segundo libro de la serie protagonizada por el Fiscal del Estado Teodor Szacki. Mi reseña de Entanglement, el primero de la serie la pueden ver AQUÍ.

13 thoughts on “Review: A Grain Of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski”

  1. Oh I am so glad to know this is such a good read for you Jose Ignacio. I’ve only just read the first book in the series but I am definitely planning to read this one as soon as I can get my hands on it.

  2. Jose Ignacio: I enjoyed the review. The plot reminded of a real life murder in Prussia at the same time period which raised the issue of the blood libel against the Jews. A book The Butcher’s Tale, about the case was written by Helmut Walser Smith.

  3. Jose Ignacio, I think I will have to read this book because the “blood libel” is alive and well in Europe. BBC journalists tweet photos of dead children in Syria and tell people they were killed in Gaza. Tottenham football supporters are attacked in Lyon simply because the club has a tradition of having Jewish supporters.

  4. Thanks for this excellent review, Jose Ignacio. The novel sounds fascinating and I’m very interested to see how the historical material is handled. Without giving too much away, could you confirm that there is some kind of Second World War angle? And do you think it’s OK to dive straight into this one, or would it be best to read Entanglement first?

    1. Thanks for your comment Mrs P. The emphasis is more in Poland’s recent history, and in the post-war communist Poland. It can be read as a standalone in my view.

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