All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

21:37 – Mariusz Czubaj

on July 18, 2013

Mariusz Czubaj (translated from the Polish by Anna Hyde)
Stork Press
2013, 300p
Copy courtesy of Tony’s Reading List

A homeless man collecting cans finds the bodies of two young men in a park, their heads wrapped in plastic bags. They have been ruthlessly suffocated and marked with the numbers 21 and 37. Also, both have been marked with pink lipstick.

Rudolf Heinz is a profiler who works in Katowice. A single father, he has a steadily worsening relationship with his teenage son – it has now reached the point where he rarely sees him, the two can go for days and days without crossing paths. When Heinz gets the instruction from his boss to head to Warsaw to help assist the investigation into the two murdered boys, he has to leave his son a note on the fridge on a post-it note to let him know what is going on.

Heinz isn’t sure why he’s been called in to assist with this case but steadily the details come. The two murdered young men are seminaries, studying at a nearby theological college. The pink lipstick mark dates back to the Nazi days – it was what the Nazi’s used to indicate a homosexual. And the numbers 21:37 are believed to reference the time of death of the Pope.

Heinz is a bit of an oddity – nicknamed “Hippie” he plays in a band and listens constantly to classic rock, he cannot sleep without it. Some years ago, Heinz made a near-fatal mistake in a case. He was confronted by a killer and tortured, nearly burned alive. He bears the heavy scars, both physical and mental of this traumatic experience. Heinz is considered the best criminal profiler in Poland but he is especially referenced for cases that appear to carry some sort of religious context. It is for these reasons that he has been summoned to Warsaw to help “oversee”. The powers that be demand a result in this case, one way or another.

This is the first novel featuring profiler Rudolf Heinz and thankfully it’s also the first one translated into English. It’s a pet peeve of mine when English translations begin part of the way through the series, leaving English-speaking readers ignorant to background information. It’s also the first Polish crime novel I’ve ever read – translated crime fiction is very big business these days and I was interested to try a book from a new country. To be honest though, the setting is mostly irrelevant. I didn’t get a sense of Polish history, culture or life other than some vague religious references. Heinz (like the ketchup, as he says every time he introduces himself) is in his mid 40’s, living a stilted life with his teenage son. I’m not sure what happened to his former wife – whether she died or simply left, this is never made clear. But it’s clear that his relationship with his son is disintegrating at the beginning of the novel – he has no idea where he is or what he’s doing. They do manage to connect in some way later on, but it’s a tenuous thing. Heinz keeps his horrific scars hidden, preferring to overdress presumably to avoid stares, flinching, questions, judgement and possibly sympathy and pity. He still has questions for his torturer who is incarcerated in a place for the mentally insane. I really liked his devotion to classic rock and the references to bands and songs.

I’ll readily admit to knowing nothing about religion because it doesn’t interest me at all.  I know that Poland is a pretty Roman Catholic country (close to 90% of the population I think). A lot of the religious references went over my head, as did the quoted bible passages. The sections where Heinz goes to visit the theological college I did really struggle with. The narrative is very dry at times and it suffers from an excess of information. Everything is described and at times I felt like I was reading pages and pages but the plot wasn’t advancing at all. I also really wasn’t sure what the second case Heinz is sort-of investigating, a vicious stabbing murder in his hometown, served at all. It was mostly forgotten for nearly the entire novel then Heinz scribbles a few things down on some paper and basically figures everything out even though he’s not even there. I understand that he’s supposed to be brilliant but I want to be able to understand how/why that brilliance works.

With translated fiction, so much of it comes down to how smoothly it converts into the new language. A good translator can keep the essence of the story, the flow but I’m not entirely sure this worked for me here. As I mentioned, I did feel very bogged down at times. Endless conversations and information that I didn’t really need that didn’t seem to actually do anything to further the story. Heinz often made random decisions or leaps of logic – he was right true, but how? The core story is quite bleak and it seems that there is a good exploration of themes but the ending (both the Warsaw crime and the local one) felt undeniably weak. However it was a promising start to a series and Heinz is a character I would revisit. Perhaps I’m used to more commercialised crime fiction, gorier and bolder, rather than informative and subtle.


Book #185 of 2013



2 responses to “21:37 – Mariusz Czubaj

  1. It’s a shame that this novel sounds as though it lacks depth as the core concept of the mysterious murders is chilling. That said, I’m not certain this is the right book for me as I’m not religious in the slightest and have absolutely no interest in that sort of thing. I would likely end up skimming past most of the religious references, bible passages, etc. I tend to avoid Christian-themed fiction at all costs as the majority of the time I find it unfortunately rather sanctimonious and off-putting. I also hate novels that are written in a dry, clinical style that’s akin to reading a technical manual. I think I’ll be steering clear of this one.

  2. Tony says:

    Sorry it didn’t really do it for you – hope you enjoyed it a bit anyway 😉

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