Phantoms, Death and the End of the World in Breslau

One of the main ways a foreigner can get to know more about another culture is through literature. However, the difficulty in Poland with learning the language can mean that literature can usually take a back seat until more pressing issues such as job, friends and speaking the lingo get sorted. To simplify the literature search, translations of existing publications will always be the easier option. Thus, I was pleased to find some books written by Marek Krajewski which have been translated into English. Krajewski has written a few series in the past twelve years, notably the Eberhard Mock series, Jarosław Patera series and most recently the Edward Popielski series.

Krajewski writes criminal thrillers, and is best known for the Eberhard Mock books. He is from Wrocław originally, and thus sets most of his books around Wrocław, especially in the period between the First and Second World Wars (from approximately 1919 to 1950) – thus giving rise to the “… in Breslau” grouping of books. The subtitle for each of the books in the series is ‘An Eberhard Mock investigation’, with the eponymous ‘hero’ featuring in each of the books. Mock is a detective in the Breslau Police Force, classically schooled in Greek and Latin, and yet flawed. He is never too far from a bottle of schnapps and a cigarette, and yet is at his best when forced into situations where he relies on alcohol and other stimulations for sustenance. In each of the books, he has to investigate brutal and often gruesome murders. His experience with the Vice Department also comes into play, sometimes in professionals matters and other times in his personal life. He works with members of his team such as Kurt Smolorz and Herbert Anwaldt to investigate and in many cases, they need to delve into the aristocracy of Breslau and a number of sects and cults who are involved in the murders.

There are 5 books in the Eberhard Mock series, Death in Breslau, The End of the World in Breslau, Phantoms in Breslau, Fortress Breslau and Plague in Breslau. Only the first three of these have been translated into English, but the others will surely follow shortly. Krajewski uses a very descriptive style which expertly presents Breslau, down to the imagery of the streets, the people and the life of the city in the 1920’s. Naturally, the city is Germanic at that time, but touches of Poland and Polish sneak through which seem to be reflective of how the city has evolved over time. When it comes to the murder mystery part of the novels, the step into Mock’s mind gives a glimpse into the requirements and pressures on a criminal detective. I also think that excellent translations have been applied to the books. As a native speaker, the best recommendation I can give is that you would not notice that it is a translation. The descriptive elements are so well presented that it makes it easy to get lost in the story. And now the only difficulty would be in finding other such Polish novels which are also well translated and well presented. Until language fluency ‘kicks in’, that has to be the next best option, and in this case Marek Krajewskis books work very well.

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