Phantoms of Breslau

Marek Krajewski
Phantoms of Breslau
  • W.A.B.
    Warszawa 2005
    122 × 194
    296 pages
    ISBN 83-7414-115-0

Marek Krajewski, classical philologist and researcher at the University of Wrocław, made his debut in 1999 with a novel entitled Death in Breslau. If we want to blatantly assign this book to the tradition of one particular genre, then we're dealing with the almost classic roman noir. Krajewski's hero, a detective called Eberhardt Mock, conducts an enquiry into a grisly murder in pre-war Wrocław — then the German city of Breslau. Breslau in 1934 combines the worlds of the Nazi regime, a still multiethnic society and a secret Satanist sect. As he strolls about the city, as if in passing Krajewski takes note of the bizarre nature of things, and of signs that presage a catastrophe. He gives these observations a gloomy tinge and steeps them in ambiguity.

Eberhardt Mock is ideally suited to this model of a mysterious, murky setting for crime. He himself is Breslau, with the lights and shades of the city reflected in his unstable personality.
A sequel entitled The End of the World in Breslau (2003) takes us back in time. It is now 1927. Despite appearances, this approach, though demanding, has proved a superb idea. Here we learn about Mock's earlier fate and gain insights that explain his rather perverse mentality. However, that is not the most essential feature of this shift in time, because in crime fiction the main character does not change significantly within a series. The reader of the roman noir prefers his favourite detective to be the same as he was at the start. Nonetheless, a change of setting and the hero's interaction with a new reality fit very well into the scheme of the genre.
The 1920s offer truly fertile ground for Krajewski. His predilection for occultism, mystery and facades find their best medium in this era. Some strange characters fill the pages, including heroin addicts, degenerates and other champions of unreality, all of whom blend perfectly into the world that Krajewski finds so seductive (as does Eberhardt Mock along with him). There is not yet a fascist muzzle on Breslau's furrowed face, and there's almost no sunlight — a bright day might reveal the scars on Mock/Breslau's face, and then someone might try to give a rational explanation for the structure of this world, but they shouldn't. Take away the night, and Chandler's Los Angeles would lose its soul—just like Krajewski's Breslau.

The latest book in the series, Phantoms of Breslau, is set in 1919. Junior detective Eberhardt Mock is conducting an enquiry into some murders for which he himself is the driving force. This time Krajewski's hero becomes the object of the game. And once again, going back in time has a surprising effect. Making the policeman hero into the victim is a trick as old as the genre, but it usually happens to experienced cops known for their eccentricity. Krajewski has taken a big risk by reversing this pattern, and once again he has come through unscathed.

Apparently in the final part of the tetralogy Krajewski will conclude some of the themes that appear in the other three, to do with Eberhardt Mock and his further fortunes, not earlier ones, because this time the action will take place in 1945, which means it will also be a conclusion of the fate of Breslau — the ultimate one. No one will ever call the city by that name again after the war — it won't be allowed.

- Irek Grin