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October 25, 2013 6:14 pm
Chasing the King of Hearts, by Hanna Krall, translated by Philip Boehm, Peirene Press, RRP£12, 176 pages
Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts, first published in Poland in 2006, tells the story of Izolda, a Jewish woman who criss-crosses Europe in an attempt to rescue her husband, Shayek, from the Nazis. Determined and resourceful, she leaves the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 and travels to Austria, then to Germany, changing her name and dyeing her hair to evade the Gestapo.
Izolda even manages – after a chilling encounter with Josef Mengele – to escape internment in Auschwitz, but when she finally reaches Shayek their reunion is anticlimactic, and their later lives shadowed by memories of loved ones lost.
Krall’s narrative is fragmented; short chapters bear gnomic titles (“Enough”; “Scorching Heart”; “Presents”), and it flits back and forth in time. If this technique tends to disrupt the flow, and preclude the reader’s emotional engagement with the characters, it also amounts to a tacit acknowledgment – one Krall shares with WG Sebald – that conventional narrative will not convey the horror of the Holocaust.
Review by David Evans
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Never Screw Up, by Jens Lapidus, Macmillan, RRP£12.99, 491 pages
This book’s original Swedish title may have been softened in the English translation but Never Screw Up is still incendiary stuff. Jens Lapidus serves up a notably astringent view of crime and society – his striking 2006 debut Easy Money was successfully adapted into a recent film.
In this second instalment of Lapidus’s Stockholm noir trilogy, Niklas is a mercenary and weapons expert hooked on the adrenalin of violence, while Thomas is a burnt-out cop who hears of a murdered drug addict but learns that somebody wants the case buried. Meanwhile, Mahmud, a bodybuilder fresh out of jail and keen to live the high life, has serious debts that are about to be called in. The three men find themselves on a lethal collision course.
Lapidus’s debut, with its crowded, fast-moving narrative, evoked echoes of his inspirations – American masters Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. It would have been a foolhardy move for most writers but one that he has the chutzpah to bring off. This second novel confirms his abilities.
Review by Barry Forshaw
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Down Among the Dead Men, by Ed Chatterton, Arrow, RRP£6.99, 438 pages
A blood-drenched crime scene in suburban Liverpool appears straightforward: a husband has killed his wife and then taken his own life. But where is their teenaged son Nicky, who is due to star in a film being shot in the city? Is he another casualty – or the prime suspect? Newly promoted DCI Frank Keane of the Merseyside Major Incident Team is handed the job of finding the boy and dealing with the huge press interest.
Chatterton, a Liverpudlian, has written children’s books but this is uncompromisingly adult fare at the tough end of the crime spectrum. The author is well aware of one of his city’s most fascinating hidden features: the menacing Victorian folly known as the Williamson Tunnels, which honeycomb parts of the city.
He then broadens his narrative profitably (and surprisingly), moving from Liverpool to Los Angeles and handling both locations with confidence.
Chatterton may lay on the adjectives with abandon but there is no denying his novel’s visceral power and the vivid picture it draws of one of Britain’s great cities.
Review by BF
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